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Preventing Allegations of Abuse

America’s population is aging, creating a greater demand for health care services than ever before. Unfortunately, the same vulnerabilities that cause dependent adults to seek care also make them potential targets for abuse by their caregivers. With claims of dependent adult abuse on the rise across the country, it’s important for your organization to understand the serious liability risks that these claims can represent so that you can take appropriate steps to prevent them. Even a false allegation of misconduct can lead to costly lawsuits and hefty payouts while damaging your reputation beyond repair.

Screen Your Staff Carefully

Filling open positions is high on the list of priorities for any health care provider, but there are some definite rewards for taking a methodical approach to hiring staff. Start by conducting proper background checks. Every single job candidate or volunteer should provide consent in writing to a full federal and state background check regardless of their job description, full/part-time status, or any previous work experience. You should also check their information against the National Sex Offenders Public Registry. Never allow someone to provide services to your patients or conduct activities at your facility until you’ve thoroughly screened them.

You should also be following up on all of the references that your candidates provide to you with their application materials. It might be tempting to forego this step if the rest of their resume is solid, especially if their background checks come back clean. Take the time to call their references anyway. They may be able to help you identify some red flags with regard to a candidate’s conduct that might point to a liability risk down the road, even if they haven’t committed a crime yet.

It’s a good idea to make sure that the same person goes through every part of the hiring process with each individual candidate, as things can be missed if their materials end up passing through multiple hands. If this isn’t possible, then it’s critical that information is properly forwarded between people, including all notes taken during interviews or while calling references. Each person involved in the hiring process should have access to all of the information that’s been collected about each candidate.

Train and Educate Your Staff

Once you’ve hired the right people, you need to provide them with the education and training that they need to safely care for your patients. Don’t overlook this critical step! With very few exceptions, the law requires that physicians, nurses, and most other health care workers be trained as mandatory reporters of neglect and abuse. There are a number of excellent providers for this training, including VGM Education, and most offer their courses online. When selecting your training program, you’ll want to be sure that it covers both child and dependent adult abuse in detail, providing a thorough explanation of what constitutes each. It should also cover how to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect, and how to make a report to the proper authorities.

Employee education shouldn’t stop there. Make sure that you also establish and teach proper guidelines for working with patients, especially for caregivers who provide home health care, hospice care, physical therapy, or other services that involve frequent and possibly unsupervised physical contact with patients. Caregivers should be trained to work with their patients in a way that makes them feel safe and secure while minimizing the possibility of misunderstandings regarding their conduct or intentions.

Check Your Insurance Policy

It’s important to ensure that your facility is covered for liability involving abuse/molestation, which will respond to claims of misconduct made against your employees. These policies typically provide coverage against actual or alleged claims of sexual abuse, but may be written to include other forms of maltreatment as well. You’ll want to investigate your options with your insurance provider, aiming to put a comprehensive policy in place that provides assistance with damages, judgements, settlements, and attorney fees arising out of allegations of misconduct.

It should be noted that no insurance policy will cover an individual employee for intentional acts of wrongdoing. Abuse/molestation policies typically protect your business from liability for such acts, so long as you can reasonably demonstrate that you’ve done your due diligence with regard to hiring, training, and supervising the employee in question. Be sure that you thoroughly discuss the terms of your policy with your insurance provider so that you have a full understanding of the coverage that it offers.

Respond Immediately to Every Allegation

If you’re presented with evidence or accusations of misconduct by one of your employees, you need to take immediate action. Start by removing the accused staff member from duty and restricting their access to patients while you conduct a thorough investigation.

This is often the most difficult step because it may cause hardship for an employee that you may very well believe to be innocent. However, failing to take immediate action can expose your practice to claims of negligence. Defending your company against such claims is often difficult and costly. To make matters worse, your liability insurance carrier might refuse to pay any claims if a claim of negligence is substantiated.

You’ll want to document everything thoroughly while conducting your investigation. You’ll also want to make sure that you can produce evidence that the accused employee was thoroughly vetted, trained, educated, and supervised. If your investigation substantiates the allegations against your employee, make sure that you consult with legal counsel immediately to determine appropriate next steps.

Protecting Your Staff AND Your Patients

It's never pleasant to consider these issues, but you have a duty to protect your staff and your patients from the threat of abuse or false allegations thereof. The best way to do that is to avoid any circumstance that could lead to a claim, be it legitimate or false. It’s unfortunate that the increased opportunities afforded to health care providers often come with an equal amount of increased risk, but this can be mitigated with proper guidance and careful planning. Taking proactive steps to create an environment that is safe for patients and caregivers will allow you to focus less on issues of liability, clearing the way for you to focus on making people well.

For more information about how you can minimize the risk of claims for your business, and to ensure you have adequate coverage in place, reach out to your VGM Insurance Services Account Manager or contact us today at info@vgminsurance.com or 800-362-3363.

 

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