As a Pembroke Pines elder abuse attorney, I was disturbed to read in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Sept. 27 that thousands of people with criminal records are working around elderly and disabled people as caregivers and aides. People with certain kinds of criminal record are not supposed to work with elderly or disabled patients, the newspaper said, but state-granted exemptions, poor record-keeping and inconsistent laws have allowed many to slip through the cracks. Some caregivers’ records are only checked for criminal offenses in Florida; others are legally allowed to begin their jobs before a background check is back; and some types of worker and crime are not checked at all. As a result, the newspaper said, Florida patients have been assaulted, robbed and neglected by people who should never have been working with them.
The newspaper cites several stories, including one involving caregiver Tierra Henry. Henry had been convicted of aggravated assault, which should have disqualified her from working at a group home for cerebral palsy patients. The home’s director said an FBI check into Henry through the Florida Department of Children and Families came out clean, but a Florida criminal record check should have turned up her conviction. None was undertaken. A year into her job, Henry was caught grabbing a disabled resident and pushing her to the floor, which led to a four-year probation term for aggravated assault on a disabled person.
Another caregiver in the article was Phillina Anderson, who was facing forgery charges when she applied at a nursing home in Palm Beach County. Despite the charges, her background check came up clean and she was hired. A few years later, Anderson became upset at an elderly resident who had Alzheimer’s as well as a past stroke. According to a report, Anderson slapped the woman “extremely hard” and told her to shut up. Only after the incident did Anderson’s employer learn that she had been accused of abuse at another facility, which never reported that incident. Anderson was convicted of abuse of an elderly person and served three months in prison.
As a North Miami Beach elder abuse attorney, I am disturbed to learn that there’s so little preventing people with bad histories from working with helpless older and disabled people. People enter group homes, nursing homes and other assisted living facilities because they can no longer live on their own, which makes them easy targets for people without their best interests in mind. The state background check requirement is supposed to weed out bad caregivers, but as the article notes, background check requirements are patchy and inconsistent. As a result, the most vulnerable people in our society are at risk of physical abuse, robbery or worse, and they are often too frightened or too unwell to speak out until it’s too late.
At Cohn, Smith & Cohn, we are proud to help elder abuse victims and their families in Florida. Our Boca Raton elder abuse lawyers represent people who were harmed physically, emotionally or financially by their own caregivers. In many cases, the people accused of harming our clients have already been investigated by state licensing agencies or criminal prosecutors — but as valuable as these enforcement actions are for seeking justice, they can’t help victims defray the high costs of abuse. In many cases, victims of elder abuse must be hospitalized while their families scramble to find new, expensive care for the victim and miss days of work. An elder abuse lawsuit can help families win the money they need to pay these and other abuse-related costs, as well as compensating victims for their suffering and physical pain.
If you believe a loved one is a victim of elder abuse and you’d like to learn more about your legal options, Cohn, Smith & Cohn can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, you can reach us in Broward County at (954) 431-8100 or contact us online anytime.