Felons Turned Home Health Workers Caring for Elderly in California

Some of California’s elderly in need of home health services are being cared for by convicted felons, made possible in part by a flawed system that is “rife with loopholes,” reports the local NBC affiliate, allowing people to sign waivers allowing felon caretakers to care for them despite their backgrounds—and despite the criminal activity they may be more disposed to do.

In 2009, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation seeking to protect the state’s low-income elderly who relied on its In-Home Supportive Services program, but a lack of oversight—including a delayed start to performing background checks—and other legal issues prevented the state from properly keeping track of the felons who signed up to work in the program. 

About two-thirds of the felons-turned-caretakers who were detected by California last year ended up being granted waivers by their disabled and elderly clients, reports NBC, and that’s not likely to change.

“The system is flawed because it does not disqualify the majority of felons who commit theft offenses,” said Patrick Sequeira, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney. “Most businesses would not hire these felons to work in a position of trust. Why should the government hire these people to care for the disabled and blind?”

To be sure, felons who have abused the system represent just a fraction of the people working as caretakers in the program.

“There have been grand jury reports over the years that have shown various levels of fraud in IHSS,” said Jovan Agee, director of political and legislative affairs for the United Domestic Workers/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3930, which represents 65,000 home health care providers. “But when you look at the IHSS fraud in context, there is no report that I’ve seen that has shown rampant fraud on a statewide level.”

But how many similar cases present future danger is unknown, because the state and counties tracked only people convicted of the most egregious felonies who sought to become home health aides, both before the 2009 law and during the 14 months after a judge blocked the state from implementing it.

On Feb. 1, 2011, the state began tracking so-called “tier two” felonies – such as violent felonies and sex offender registrations – among people who applied to be caretakers. In all, 747 people were disqualified from the program through mid-March, according to the most recent figures available from the state Department of Social Services.

Of those, roughly 516 – about 69 percent – later received a waiver from patients to become their caretaker, allowed under the 2011 law if the conviction did not involve welfare fraud or elder or child abuse.

The large numbers of people signing waivers to have felons care for them might be a reflection of how difficult it is to find dependable home health aides.

What’s happening is that former felons—even those convicted of murder—are able to become home health aides through the waiver system, and in some cases are continuing their criminal ways by defrauding the Medicare system.

Read more at NBC’s Bay Area website.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

Alyssa Gerace

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