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July 28, 2012

Elderly risk abuse in their own homes

Little oversight of private-pay home health care industry

When Chris Sergio hired someone to take care of his elderly mother on the three days a week his father was undergoing dialysis treatment, he thought he was taking the necessary precautions.

He turned to Old Colony Elder Services, a nonprofit organization that provides elder care services to 23 cities and towns, which gave him a list of three agencies. He chose Home Instead Senior Care of East Bridgewater, a well-established company with a good reputation both locally and nationally, according to Diana L. DiGiorgi, executive director of Old Colony.

Home Instead sent Debra Blair Belcher, a home care aide, to provide non-medical assistance to Sergio’s mother, who suffers from dementia.

Belcher seemed like a perfect fit until Sergio’s parents noticed that their wedding rings and pieces of silverware were missing from their Middleboro home.

“I was furious with her for taking advantage of a person with dementia, and she did it on a weekly basis,” said Sergio, who said thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and flatware was stolen.

Belcher, who was charged under her maiden name Debra Blair, was found guilty of larceny from a person older than 60–years-old in Wareham District Court last year. Later, in Brockton District Court she was convicted of similar charges after other clients in Abington, East Bridgewater and Brockton brought similar complaints. She was to serve one year behind bars and is now out on probation until June 2013.

The Belcher case illustrates the risks the elderly face in an era when an increasingly aging population would rather live at home with an infirmity than move into a nursing home.

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states in the nation that does not license or regulate the burgeoning private-pay home care industry, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. These are agencies that do not work under either a federal or state contract, but provide assistance like companionship, housekeeping and cooking to families that shoulder the costs alone.

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