New Senior Home Worker Law: Protection or Intrusion?

A vast workforce in California has gone unregulated and unmonitored — and that could be a danger to the seniors they are supposed to help.

That’s the gist of a new law passed this week by the Senate Committee on Health. SB 411 by Curren Price (D-Inglewood), the Home Care Service Act of 2011, would require background checks and elementary care instruction for all workers who help out in seniors’ homes.

“Without background checks or training, anyone can be a home health worker,” Price said. “And that could leave some seniors vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”

Liz Sanders, a member of Service Employees International Union who testified at the hearing, said having people with unknown histories stay in the house with seniors for so many hours and days at a time is just asking for trouble. She said seniors are particularly susceptible to mistreatment.

“I feel like seniors are in this big boat with so many holes,” Sanders said. “And we need to plug as many of those holes as possible.”

Every other type of paid caregiver needs to be licensed, so exempting such a vulnerable part of the population from monitoring makes no sense, she said.

“Right now, there is no central place where caregivers and home care aides need to go to register,” she said. “We’d like them to be licensed by the Department of Public Health, to protect consumers from abuse.”

The opposition to the proposal comes in the details. For instance, regulating from 700,000 to 1 million home care aides is a vast undertaking, and some people would rather see that project handled by social services agencies rather than the public health department.

Lucy Andrew, a home care nurse in Sonoma County, said a network of service organizations already run checks on caregivers. She said that could be threatened by a formal licensing requirement.

“Our services allow seniors to stay at home where they want to be,” Andrews said. “We as an industry are very concerned about elder abuse and financial abuse — our concern is, we are concerned [licensure requirements] will push caregivers underground. And we are concerned also about the bottleneck in trying to process that many people. The Department of Public Health already has issues around the people it already regulates.”

Ed Hernandez, (D-West Covina) who chairs the health committee, voted to move the bill with some reservations.

“When it comes to our elderly population, we need to make sure the most vulnerable are protected. I am generally supportive of the bill and the measure,” Hernandez said. “But I have concerns with the process of how we do that, with regard to the workforce. I mean, 700,000 to a million people, that’s going to be a challenge, and I’m concerned which department is it under.”

The Senate Committee on Health passed the measure 5-2, and it now goes to the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

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