Lawmakers propose transparency for home care industry

July 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new state report confirms much of what a 7 On Your Side investigation uncovered last fall: A lack of government oversight of the home care industry is leading to the abuse of seniors and the disabled, sometimes by people paid to care for them.

Investigators for the state senate found that California is just one of a handful of states that doesn't regulate the home care industry, but efforts to change that are under way in the legislature.

Rose Michael, 93, cherishes visits from her daughter Rosalyn. Michael has dementia and lives in a residential senior home. Four years-ago, though, she was being cared for by a convicted felon named Wessa Tanubo, who stole $30,000 from Michael.

Now, Michael's family wants greater oversight of the home care industry.

"I don't want to be a victim of something like this happening to me," Michael's daughter Rosalyn Gonsonlin said. "I don't want to see any of the elders becoming a victim and they are the most-susceptible group."

The state senate's Office of Oversight and Outcomes conducted an investigation into the home elder care using a 7 On Your Side investigation as evidence.

"We found that there were people currently advertising their services on Craigslist who do have criminal backgrounds," said John Hill with the office. "We found that many people convicted of caregiver crimes have previous rap sheets -- about 25 percent of them."

The investigation found "many in-home care agencies claim to do background checks, but this can range from a thorough screening to a $19.95 instant Internet check that experts say yields almost nothing of value."

The home care agency used by Michael's family said it conducted a background check on her caretaker, but that check failed to find a drug conviction, numerous parole violations and a 2008 restraining order that kept Tanubo away from her own children.

"I think one of the most important finding of my report is Californians, under current law, can do their own background checking," Hill said.

Hill says families can use an inexpensive service that scans the finger prints of prospective workers for a background check, but few take advantage of it.

Gonsonlin said her family didn't know about it.

"I think it's an oversight," Gonsonlin said. "Once again, the elderly are a forgotten group of people, and they're not a priority."

A bill making its way through the assembly would require licensing of home care providers and make background checks mandatory. It would also list providers on a web site.

Members of the home care industry oppose the legislation.

"We're very concerned about privacy," said Greg Yu with Home Sweet Home. "Not only the caregivers have to put their names out, but if the direct hire is from a senior, perhaps the senior would have to list their name and location."

But Senator Curren Price, who authored the bill, says the website is meant to give families peace of mind.

"This website is to give consumers a place to go to check the legitimacy of the home care aid and to ensure that these people work for licensed agencies," Price said.

A similar bill by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada has not been able to get out of the Assembly Appropriations Committe. Price's bill is set to be heard by the same committee on August 17.


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