A member of my senior management team was recently contacted by a Pittsburgh Police detective inquiring about private duty caregivers in connection to a ring of criminal activity. The target of this ring is elders in the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
It is no secret that the Jewish community in Pittsburgh has long depended upon a network of private aides, employed by families and referred by word of mouth. This has been the tradition going back generations, and in fact many of these freelance caregivers have worked for multiple generations within the same family. Many of these individuals have been trusted friends, supports and in some instances, treated as though they are part of the family. Unfortunately, some caregivers who present themselves as kind, caring and trustworthy actually have malevolent intentions and look for an opportunity to take advantage of those who are frail.
Please make sure you are aware not only of who is going into your or your elderly friend or relative’s home, but also what happens there. Here are some things you can do to ensure your loved one is not taken advantage of:
The safest option is to obtain services through a reputable, licensed agency or registry. Two such organizations that we frequently work with as our providers of choice are Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Home Instead.
If you do insist on going it alone, make sure you do a criminal background check and ask for prior employment references on whomever you are letting into the home. Criminal background checks are fast and easy to obtain. The individuals who are after your money or possessions are in many cases very personable and likable; this is how they gain your trust, but try not to let this dissuade you from doing a criminal background check.
Make sure any financial documents or records such as checkbooks, bank statements, anything with social security numbers or account numbers, are out of view and ideally locked in a secure cabinet.
If you are a friend or family member, make frequent, unscheduled visits to the home where the caregiver is, varying the time of day you stop by.
Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, let the person go and get someone else.
The investigation by the Pittsburgh Police into this particular activity within the Jewish community is ongoing. If you or a family member have employed a private duty caregiver and have concerns, please contact Detective Francesco Rosato of the Pittsburgh Police at 5858 Northumberland Street in Squirrel Hill, or 412-422-6520.
While it certainly is sad that we have to think this way about those we are depending on to care for those who are most vulnerable, and while certainly there are some very compassionate, wonderful private caregivers out there, we cannot turn a blind eye to the realities that exist. Those who are honest and well-intentioned should understand your desire to check their backgrounds.
Deborah Winn-Horvitz is the president and CEO of Jewish Association on Aging.