As a Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorney, I write here a lot about the physical abuse and medical neglect of nursing home patients. But in addition to these threats, nursing home patients and their families are also vulnerable to financial exploitation, particularly when the caregivers have a history of past crimes. Unfortunately, a recent lawsuit settlement in California brought to light the fact that even when state laws require criminal background checks, shoddy work can still allow them to take advantage of the elderly in nursing homes and home care settings.
In the California case, a 92-year-old woman was the victim of financial abuse by her home care provider. Wessa Tanubo pleaded guilty in 2009 to felony financial abuse, after stealing at least $30,000 from Rose Michael by using Michael's credit cards and signing checks to herself. After Michael's family began to suspect that Tanubo was stealing from Michael, they found out that Tanubo had been convicted on drug charges in 1994, and was in and out of prison from 2000 to 2004 on various parole violations. In 2008, San Mateo Superior Court issued a restraining order forbidding Tanubo to have contact with her own child.
All of this should have turned up in a criminal background check performed by Home Care Assistance, the company that placed Tanubo in Michael's home, but HCA didn't discover it. HCA claimed to do national and local criminal background checks, but claims it turned up nothing unusual about Tanubo. To make matters worse, the state of California does not mandate criminal background checks for any caregivers. A 2008 law gave counties the authority to conduct checks in the case of low-income people receiving public assistance, but not a requirement. Because the Michael family was able to pay for Rose Michael's care out of pocket, the law didn't apply to their caregiver. And according to the article, the law is frequently ignored even when it does apply.
Pennsylvania law does require that criminal background checks be performed on all employees and administrators of nursing homes. Prospective employees whose background checks reveal what are known as "prohibitive offenses" can't work in nursing homes. These crimes range from murder to library theft. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I know nursing home patients are at the mercy of the nursing home staff. Criminal background checks are meant to help them and their families feel safe, but they can't guarantee that all staff members will always provide adequate care. That's why it's important for nursing home patients and families to know their rights and keep an eye on staff members they suspect of wrongdoing.