Some Home Health Aides Accused Of Victimizing Patients, Regulation Questions Raised

Some Home Health Aides Accused Of Victimizing Patients, Regulation Questions Raised

Levels Of Training For Home Health Aides Concerns Some Patients

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Next week, former home health aide Demetria Bennett is scheduled to go on trial on five felony counts, for allegedly stealing almost $150,000 from a dying patient in her care.

As more of us age, we will rely on home health aides.  But as we learned, the state doesn't do much to regulate thousands of these caregivers.

For some, it's little training.

For others, it's few background checks.

Jim Minwegen is 78 and has multiple sclerosis.  This once-active man is now confined to a hospital bed in his living room.  For almost 20 years, he's needed home care 40 hours a week.

In that time, he said he's had hundreds of caregivers, and lost thousands of dollars.  Jim used to keep cash in a drawer at his bedside. He would give it his aides so they could go grocery shopping for him. But that was too tempting a target for some.

"One of them would remake the bed while I was in the shower, and money would turn up missing," he said.

His money disappeared on several occasions.

"The first one I lost money with was a one-day replacement," he said.

So Minwegen switched to a debit card.  He would tell the aides his pin number.  Then, he'd instruct them to withdraw sixty dollars for groceries, and return both the card and the receipt. One aide withdrew money for him, then for herself.

"So there's $1,400," he said.

He was alerted when his bank called to say he had a negative balance in his account.

That aide was Dianna Baker.  She was arrested and charged with felonies.  She pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property.

Minwegen says, it happened again soon afterwards, with a different aide.

"She managed to take $640," he said.

"We're seeing more and more reports.  We know this is grossly under-reported, so we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Detective Erik Stoddard.

Stoddard is a Columbus Police detective, specializing in forgery and fraud.  He said financial abuse of an older or disabled person is a felony under Ohio law.

"However, it's almost always going to be a fifth degree felony which usually carries no jail time," he explained.

He said some aides are convicted, and then get new jobs, doing the same thing.

"I've been in fraud and forgery long enough to know that I do see repeat customers," he said.

He said he would like to see an exclusion list, so those with criminal convictions won't be rehired, whether by an agency or by a family member.

Ohio requires that home health aides undergo background checks. While some agencies check carefully, he thinks others check too little - if at all. 

Stoddard said agencies should hang a wall of mug shots of the convicts, as a warning.  And he cautioned that people should be especially careful when hiring caregivers from newspaper or website ads.

At Homewatch Caregivers, owner Jon Hersh takes no chances. 

"I'm very concerned. We're dealing with an extremely vulnerable population here," he said.

Hersh fingerprints potential employees, swipes their driver's licenses, and checks backgrounds to screen out criminals.  He begins his check home health aides with the Ohio Attorney-General's website.

"We'll check them against a national database as well.  And that's just to start with," he said.

He also scans half a dozen other reporting sites, and elder abuse registries. 

Some states have elder abuse registries.  Ohio does not.  Last year, Representative Mike Dovilla introduced a bill in the Ohio House to set up such a registry. 

But lawmakers in the Ohio House changed the bill, so Ohio Jobs and Family Services would only “look into” the possibility of setting one up.  That bill now sits in a Senate committee.

"It's very personal care, and you want to have a level of trust and dependability with the individual working in your home," said Pandora Shaw-Dupras.

She's the C.E.O. of Easter Seals, Central and Southeast Ohio.  That agency provides caregivers for 80 or 90 disabled people. She's concerned about the bigger picture; not only whether Ohio caregivers are honest, but also whether they're properly trained.

"I think that's where we put ourselves at risk, for individuals to be neglected or abused," she said.

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., you'll see where the state stands on training home health aides and how it affects the people they serve.