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California Tightens Oversight of Home Health Agencies

Elder abuse attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report on recent developments in California that impose new regulations for home health care agencies, which provide services like dressing, bathing, and other basic tasks for the state’s elderly.

The bill, titled the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act of 2013, was just signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, however, will not be implemented until January 2016. Part- or full-time caregivers are often hired by elderly people with disabilities to assist with various non-medical tasks in order to allow that person to live at home independently.

Due to the rapidly increasing population of citizens aged 65 and older in the U.S., home care services is one of the fastest growing fields. Most seniors believe that aides entering their homes have been thoroughly interviewed, trained, and screened. Unfortunately, this is not the case: the only requirement for operating a home care service in California is a business license, and employees are often only interviewed briefly, some are not trained at all.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, this has resulted in the rampant abuse, neglect, and mistreatment of our nation’s elderly. In California, nearly five million residents are aged 65 and older, and for every one incident of abuse or neglect reported to authorities, at least four go unreported. In a country where even air-conditioning repair workers and manicurists need licenses, the lack of regulation among agencies that care for the elderly in their homes is disquieting to say the least.

There are about 1,400 home care agencies in California which employ over 120,000 caregivers. The new law will require home care services and its employees to obtain a license from the Department of Social Services (DSS) before July 1, 2014 or face a $900 fine per day. It will establish a maximum penalty of $400 per day for any violation of the law, and enable the DSS to implement procedures for receiving, investigating and resolving all complaints against home care aides.

It will also create a publicly accessible caregiver registry, require at least five hours of training for aides as well as comprehensive background checks, and be tested for tuberculosis. Agencies will also have to evaluate caregivers’ performance annually and supervise their activities in clients’ home every three months. Previously, home health agencies throughout the state avidly opposed the training and background check requirements, undoubtedly because it would hurt profits.

Just 15 states in the U.S. similarly require training for home care service aides or, in lieu of that, on-site supervision of their activities. According to a study in Journal of Applied Gerontology, 29 states require home care providers to have licenses, and 26 of these require some kind of orientation (though not necessarily a thorough training). The authors of that study believe that all states should train their service workers in: activities of daily living, infection control, basic medication information, and behavior management. Frankly, it is troubling to know these are not already government-mandated.

A simple Google search for stories of criminal mistreatment and abuse on the elderly by a caregiver pulls up dozens upon dozens of horror stories. Many involve former felons who become employed through home health agencies,embezzle tens of thousands in checks, jewelry and valuables, and then simply disappear. Many others involve devastating cases of neglect and abuse, resulting in fatal bedsores, infections, and sepsis.

Research shows that those who apply to work in the long-term care industry (home health caregivers, nursing home aides, assisted living and retired community employees, etc) are three times more likely than the overall population to have a criminal record. With the exception of infants, the elderly are by far the nation’s most vulnerable population, and failing to subject their caregivers to criminal background checks and adequate training programs is unacceptable.

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have been working alongside senior citizens and their families for over two decades, and have earned an esteemed reputation in elder law litigation. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by an at-home or nursing home worker, you have important legal rights, and should contact one of our attorneys today for a free legal consultation.