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Ten essential tips when you’re hiring a home aide — from someone who learned the hard way

David Israel and Linda Matchan on a hike in the woods around 2005.
David Israel and Linda Matchan on a hike in the woods around 2005.

I admit it: I made mistakes when I hired aides to care for my husband who had ALS.

Maybe it was because I was overwhelmed: So many aides came and went that our son described me as a “one-person personnel department.”

But I now know I was naive, too trusting, and I didn’t do the necessary due diligence.

Here are some tips to help avoid the mistakes I made:

► Do research on the people you interview. Get the applicant’s full name and look it up online. That’s how I learned that an aide I’d hired had a record of assault and battery and witness intimidation.

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► Ask them (or their agency) about their training and experience. Are they a certified nurse aide, for example? You should also ask to see their certification of training and look them up on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s License Verification Site , though it has limited value. It’s clunky and doesn’t tell you much, other than whether there’s been a “finding” against them, which could mean a lot of things. And it’s not reliable: I found eight cases of home care workers with criminal records, including one who went to jail for stealing an elderly client’s money, and there was no record of it on the registry.

(Hint for best results: When you go to “License Type,” click on “All” and put in the last name only.)

► If you’re hiring a worker privately, be sure to do a criminal background check. Members of the public age 60 or older or disabled — or their legal representative — can request a free Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) form and learn if the applicant has a criminal history. Download it here or call 617-660-4640 and ask for a form to be mailed.

If you’re not 60 or disabled, you can submit a request for the publicly accessible version of the person’s CORI. The cost is $50 and the information is limited to convictions for murder, manslaughter, sex offenses, and certain other types of convictions.

Note that both forms require the caregiver’s date of birth and the last six digits of their Social Security number. If caregivers won’t give you this information, don’t hire them.

Agencies have a legal responsibility to perform a CORI check on potential employees, though in reality, that doesn’t always happen. In the Globe’s review of 47 criminal cases involving home care workers, four worked for agencies and had prior criminal records, suggesting that the agencies either didn’t do the check or ignored the results.

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Unfortunately, consumers can’t do their own criminal background checks on agency aides because agencies can’t legally give out workers’ Social Security numbers or birth dates, or even divulge the results of their own CORI check. However, many agencies do give clients a copy of their policy on CORI checks and confirm the date that it was completed. If they won’t provide this, look for another agency.

► Ask the agency if it conducts drug screening of workers. Agencies aren’t mandated by law to do it, but about half do, according to the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts.

► Always remember you’re engaged in a business relationship with a home care worker, not a personal one. Caregivers aren’t family, and it’s never appropriate for them to ask you for money. If you choose to help them, make it a loan and deduct what they borrowed against future earnings.

► Keep valuables, money, jewelry, credit and ATM cards, and financial records — including your will and mortgage documents — locked away. Keep an eye on your medications. And consider the advice of Cathy Deely of Pittsfield, whose disabled sister was robbed by an aide she’d come to trust of $43,000 worth of jewelry and other valuables. “Put everything of value away,” Deely said. “It’s a little like a prenup. You have to responsibly protect yourself.”

► Make sure you review your bank statements each month for activities such as large withdrawals, unusual ATM use, forged signatures on canceled checks, closing of certificate of deposit accounts, and transfer of large sums of money. If you’re expecting a new credit or ATM card in the mail, be sure you get it.

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► If you’re getting notices of unpaid bills or utility shutoffs, it might signal your bank account has been raided. In the same way, consider it a warning sign if you can’t find your credit card and your caregiver inexplicably “finds” it.

► Never make changes to your will or mortgage, or get financial or official forms notarized at the request of a caregiver.

► If your caregiver makes you feel uneasy in any way, trust your instincts. If you suspect he or she is stealing, consider installing a security camera. This may seem like an extreme measure, but New Jersey not only encourages people to use surveillance cameras to monitor aides, it lends them to state residents for free.

If you have a concern, alert a family member, neighbor, friend, or health care provider. Or call (800) 922-2275, the number for the state’s Elder Protective Services Program’s Central Intake Unit. You can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or make a report online.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Know that if you report abuse and your caregiver is arrested, this does not mean you’re going to wind up in a nursing home. Massachusetts law requires the Department of Elder Services to provide services to elders using the “least restrictive alternatives.” Moving to a nursing home is considered only as a last resort.

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Linda Matchan can be reached at linda.matchan@globe.com.