Thieves Posing as Home Care Workers Put Providers on Guard

Two women are posing as home care workers with Virginia-based Sentara Healthcare, targeting elderly residents as part of a scam to steal valuables from their homes.

And this isn’t the first time Sentara — which provides a range of services, including home care, throughout Virginia and North Carolina — has issued a warning against these scams.

In October 2013, the not-for-profit, integrated health care system experienced a similar phenomenon. And while the organization doesn’t see these scams becoming a trend in the home health industry, its leaders say they do serve as a reminder to other organizations to make sure staff and patients know what to expect from their services.

“It starts with making sure that you educate and keep your staff in the know,” Melanie Englen, director of home health for Sentara Home Care Services, tells HHCN. “The first thing I did was remind our staff what our expectation was of them — remind them that their badge needs to be in a spot where the patient can see it and that they identify themselves [on the phone and in person]. Just be transparent with your staff and let them know that there’s a fear out there.”

According to Sentara, two women — described as African Americans of two different ages — have approached the doors of elderly residents in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va., claiming to be with Sentara Home Care Services.

They appear at the door without calling in advance and claim to offer services that Sentara doesn’t offer, such as shoveling a driveway and driving people to doctor appointments. Once they talk their way into residents’ homes, one keeps the resident occupied while the other looks for valuables to take.

However, Sentara says its nurses and therapists always call first to try to make contact before they arrive.

“We really believe in being transparent with our patients and letting them know that we’re going to call them beforehand and tell them who will be showing up, so they’re expecting that name [on a badge],” Englen says.

In issuing its warning to consumers, Sentara says it’s protecting its own name and reputation, which are being used by the women to conduct illegal activities.

“We were engaging in some reputation protection in being transparent with the public,” says Dale Gauding, communications advisor for Sentara Healthcare. “We just want people to be wary, and to explain our process of interacting with patients.”

For Sentara, that transparency and communication is key — and other providers should take note.

“Be transparent with your staff, patients and the community so your good name is preserved and people know that you’re doing what you can to arm them with information about how you work and how you don’t work,” Gauding says.

As of press time, Sentara says it was not aware if an arrest had been made in connection with the scams.

Written by Emily Study