How to Safeguard Agencies From Common Home Health Liabilities

Home health care providers face numerous work-related risks, particularly as the hazards that they encounter are unique to the different homes where they provide care.

While a patient’s home may not constitute a traditional “workplace” setting, on-the-job injuries still greatly impact the home health care profession.

In fact, a total of 28,600 cases of non-fatal occupational injuries were recorded in the home health care sector in 2015, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.4 per 1,000 full-time equivalent workers, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These injuries and hazards, however, not only affect the care provider, but the patient, as well.

How can agencies safeguard themselves against the impending liabilities—and perhaps even litigation—caused by these hazards? Home Health Care News spoke with professionals in the industry to find out.

General and professional liabilities

Despite extensive training provided to frontline caregivers, the reality of workplace injuries and liabilities still persists.

Among the most frequent type that home health agencies encounter include physical injuries endured by the caregiver or the client. A prime example of this is if a caregiver trips over loose carpeting and sustains any type of injury, Stephen Tweed, CSP, told Home Health Care News. Tweed is CEO of Leading Home Care, a Louisville, Kentucky-based boutique consulting and publishing firm servicing home health care, hospice and private pay in-home care agencies across the U.S. and Canada.

An agency’s general liabilities insurance comes into play when a client sustains an injury. Injuries endured by an employee, on the other hand, is covered by worker’s compensation, according to David Dickie, president of San Antonio, Texas-based The Solutions Group, an insurance agency that specializes in providing liability insurance for home care agencies across the U.S.*

But what if a caregiver was found to be negligent in his/her care procedures?

“Tied closely to [a general liability policy] is professional liability, sometimes referred to as errors and omissions insurance,” said Tweed. “This covers potential suits against the company for liability related to their policies and procedures.”

The combination of both general and professional liabilities insurance is crucial to an agency, explained Tweed, and can be considered the “big-picture” types of insurance.

The average yearly cost of insurance packages depends greatly on the size of the agency, Dickie told Home Health Care News.

For example, a start-up might pay a ballpark estimate of $2,250 for an insurance package featuring full liability and bonding—a policy that covers employee criminal activity. Larger agencies with $10 million in revenue, on the other hand, might pay roughly $35,000 for the same package, according to Dickie.

On-the-go coverage and theft

There are also special cases, and therefore special types of policies, that agencies should also carry, according to Tweed.

Accidents can happen on the go, particularly when caregivers utilize a client’s vehicle to transport them to appointments or on errands. This is where non-owned auto insurance proves crucial.

“Non-auto coverage is a backup, so if there is an accident involving the client or the client’s vehicle, and their own insurance doesn’t cover all of the damage, this non-owned auto [insurance] would kick in,” said Tweed.

Auto-related accidents are becoming a common liability for home health care agencies, according to Dickie.

In fact, the leading claim The Solutions Group sees, in terms of dollars being paid out, are auto-related incidences, he explained. While the frequency is low—the company sees, on a yearly average, between six to 12 non-owned auto claims—the payouts tend to be very costly, according to Dickie.

Theft by a caregiver from the client’s home, however, is the most frequent claim the company sees.

“They tend to be smaller claims compared to other types of claims, but there are a lot of them; or, at least a lot of allegations,” said Dickie. “[They] can be anything from [theft of] cash to pain pills, to antique teapot sets, to [caregivers] integrating themselves into the senior’s lives and having them buy them a car.”

Theft can be covered by a special policy called bonding, explained Tweed.

“You’ll hear agencies tout that they’re licensed, bonded and insured. Bonding is really criminal coverage, and it covers the agency and the client from any kind of criminal activity or theft on the part of the caregiver,” said Tweed.

A growing threat

The use of technology, like laptops and tablets, to store confidential patient information ushers in the risk of hacking and other cyber threats. For these cases, both Tweed and Dickie agree that cyber liability insurance is crucial for home health agencies.

“Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) law, agencies are prohibited from disclosing protected health information about their clients … and if they have a data breach, then they’re liable for that,” said Tweed. “And while, in the home care space, the opportunity for data breach is smaller, there is still certainly that potential.”

Common cyber liability insurance covers any thing from theft of devices or loss of protected health information, according to Dickie.

“We’re seeing more [agencies] take the coverage,” he said.

Constant review

So what can agencies do to safeguard themselves against such risks?

For Tweed, constant training of frontline care providers and refining your agency’s policies and procedures can help reduce risk, and therefore reduce insurance premiums.

Dickie stresses the importance of knowing what types of coverage are current in an agency’s insurance plan. He advises agency executives to audit their plans yearly, making sure policies covering general and professional liability, non-owned auto and commercial crime bonding are included in the plan.

“Every year, your liability package will renew; it’s a good time to just make sure that you’re covering what you think you’re covering,” he said.

Written by Carlo Calma

*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from a previous version, which stated that employee trip-and-fall injuries would be covered by liability insurance. It has been corrected to reflect that client injuries, not employee injuries, are covered under these policies.

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