This is the twenty-ninth in a series of articles intended to demystify retirement living options.

If you want to stay in your home but need help with some of the details – getting ready for the day in the mornings, running errands, and so forth – you may decide to engage an agency that provides in-home non-medical services.

But how do you know that a stranger in your home won’t take advantage of you?

Marsha Douglas, Area Supervisor for Abrio Care, and Felice Neely, Staffing Supervisor of Granite Mountain’s Private Duty (non-medical home services) arm, explained some of their safeguards to me.

Both agencies undertake at least three extensive background checks of all applicants, one of which in both cases draws on a federal database. Other checks may involve steps such as searching a private national database for criminal activities, and reviewing driving records provided by a third party (not by the applicant).

Caregivers must also obtain a fingerprint clearance card, which indicates that the state has cleared the applicant to work with vulnerable populations.

Abrio also requires caregivers to undergo more than 50 hours of training and pass a 2-3 hour combined written and hands-on exam at the end to complete Arizona’s Direct Care Worker training program. The course covers legal and ethical responsibilities as well as dozens of other topics.

Both agencies hire only people with at least a year’s experience, and routinely provide additional training, including specialized training at the client’s home when a client requires specific special services.

Neely noted that when Granite Mountain caregivers arrive at and leave a client’s home, they must call in to an automated system from the client’s landline or cell phone. These calls help ensure that clients are billed only for time that caregivers spend on-site and that caregivers do not work unauthorized hours.

Douglas, of Abrio Care, and Mary Mackenzie, the Administrator and Director of Nursing at Granite Mountain’s Home Care and Hospice arm (which is closely integrated with its nonmedical home services arm), both noted that caregivers keep a log book in the home reporting on the client’s status and activities during every visit, available to supervisors and to family members. Further, supervisors routinely visit the client’s home to help ensure that everything is in order.

Granite Mountain is implementing a new system that will allow authorized family members to access a password-protected website to get information about caregiver visits and their relative’s status.

How are clients’ finances protected? Neely and Douglas both described similar extensive and detailed controls. A meeting is held with each new client to discuss how money will be handled if caregivers are expected to run errands. Caregivers are not allowed access to a client’s standard debit or credit cards or checkbooks. A client may provide a prepaid card with a fixed limit, or a signed check if all the information is filled in.

Both Abrio and Granite Mountain ask that caregivers not be given cash for purchases, and require that caregivers give to the client all receipts documenting purchases with prepaid cards or checks.

Both agencies also require new employees to sign documents that prohibit them from becoming a signer on a client’s checkbook or becoming a power of attorney for the client. They may not be involved in changing the client’s will or become a beneficiary of the will.

Douglas of Abrio noted that employees are forbidden from taking anything at all from clients – cash, Christmas presents, anything. If they do, they will lose their jobs as soon as the situation is discovered.

At Granite Mountain, employees are not permitted to freelance – work for a Granite Mountain client outside of the Granite Mountain contract – and are not permitted to work directly for a client within a year of leaving Granite Mountain.

Both agencies report that the safeguards they have in place have protected clients to date.

Neely noted, “We are licensed and bonded, and we would cover any client losses that resulted from any employee misconduct.”

Douglas of Abrio noted, “Where people get into trouble is hiring people off the street, without the training, supervision, and safeguards that major agencies put in place.”

Don’t hesitate to ask any agency you are considering how it safeguards its clients.

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