I see that Age (not really that) Concerned is the go-to for commentary on this story. Lots of peal-clutching and tut-tutting, just no real answers to the problem.
By: Emma Russell
Emma Russell is a health reporter for the New Zealand Herald firstname.lastname@example.org
An Auckland nurse who stole from a patient is facing a fresh investigation after claims from her boss that she didn’t disclose her prior offending.
The Herald this week reported a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal decision revealing a nurse who stole more than $1200 from a disabled patient was allowed to continue nursing.
“This is a once-only second chance,” barrister Maria Dew QC said in the report.
However, the Nursing Council is reinvestigating the case after her employer came forward saying she never disclosed her criminal convictions.
The nurse, Ashwani Lal, has been working as a medical receptionist at Papakura-based medical centre, The Wood Street Doctors, since September last year.
The HPDT report said Lal had disclosed her theft convictions to her current employer but the medical centre’s practice manager told the Herald that was not true.
“We were totally shocked when we read the article,” said the manager, who spoke on the condition her named wasn’t used.
She said management couldn’t be sure if it was a “weird coincidence” that their employee had the same name, was also from South Auckland, and was also working as a medical receptionist so they contacted the Nursing Council.
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“We didn’t want to accuse her without knowing for sure.”
“The council is
The Nursing Council’s deputy registrar Clare Prendergast told the Herald the council investigating the issues.
Lal told the Herald she didn’t tell her employer because she had been trying to get a job for the past five years and was having no luck.
“I was scared.”
She said after the Herald story was published her employer asked if it was her and she said it wasn’t.
“I told them it wasn’t me, it was just someone with the same name as me. I was scared. The next day I told them the truth,” she said.
Before the story came out, Lal had resigned from The Wood Street Doctors after being offered a job at Blockhouse Bay Medical Centre. Her last day is today.
But the Blockhouse Bay centre has since rescinded her job offer. The Herald contacted the centre for comment but they declined, saying it was a “confidential employment matter”.
Employment law expert Blair Scotland said under New Zealand law an employee or an applicant did not have to disclose criminal convictions unless the employer asked.
“I always encourage employers to do a free Ministry of Justice criminal history check. ‘Trust but verify’,” Scotland said.
When the Herald asked the practice manager at The Wood Street Doctors why they didn’t ask about criminal convictions, she said: “We didn’t want to judge, she told us she was sick and really needed a job so we gave her one.”
The tribunal report also said Lal’s current employer provided a reference to the tribunal – but the practice manager said that they hadn’t.
Lal said her previous employer, East Tamaki Healthcare, who provided the reference.
East Tamaki Healthcare did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2016, Lal was working as a nurse at Pukekohe Rehabilitation and Care Unit when she stole the patient’s credit card to pay $1226.14 in power bills in 2016. On a separate occasion, she stole a colleague’s debit card to pay off $291.93 worth of phone and power bills.
She was convicted for two offences of dishonesty and sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $1558.07 reparation to the victims.
The HPDT report said Lal has not held an Annual Practising Certificate since then and has been working for two employers as a medical practice receptionist.
“These roles have involved liaising with patients, general administrative tasks and managing payments, cash and banking,” the decision said.
The HPDT report said Lal expressed to the tribunal her strong desire to return to clinical practice and that she was willing to accept any supervision and conditions it might impose.
She said she had reflected on her ethical obligations under the Nursing Council’s Code of Conduct and wanted to earn back trust and respect.
She would be willing to share her experiences and learnings about trust, integrity and honesty with other trainee nurses. She also hoped eventually to upskill to become a registered nurse.
An Auckland nurse who stole more than $1200 from a disabled patient has been given a “once-only second chance” to continue nursing.
Ashwani Lal, who worked at Pukekohe Rehabilitation and Care Unit, had her nursing registration suspended for nine months after being convicted for stealing $1200 from a patient and nearly $300 from a colleague.
A Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal decision, published today, said the tribunal believes that Lal had learned her lesson and would not act like this again against a patient or a colleague.
“She must recognise that this is a ‘once-only’ second chance,” the report said.
Lal stole the patient’s credit card to pay $1226.14 in power bills in 2016. On a separate occasion, she stole a colleague’s debit card to pay off $291.93 worth of phone and power bills.
She was convicted for two offences of dishonesty at Pukekohe District Court in 2017, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $1558.07 reparation to the victims.
Lal resigned from her job at Pukekohe Hospital in May 2017 and has not held an Annual Practising Certificate since then.
Instead, she has been working for two different employers as a medical practice receptionist.
“These roles have involved liaising with patients, general administrative tasks and managing payments, cash and banking,” the decision said.
Lal voluntarily disclosed her theft convictions to both employers. Her current employer is aware she is facing this disciplinary charge and Ms Lal produced a reference from her current employer, the report said.
The HPDT report said Lal expressed to the tribunal her strong desire to return to clinical practise and that she is willing to accept any supervision and conditions that might be imposed by the tribunal.
She said she has reflected on her ethical obligations under the Nursing Council’s Code of Conduct and wants to earn back trust and respect.
She would be willing to share her experiences and learnings about trust, integrity and honesty with other trainee nurses. She also hopes eventually to upskill to become a registered nurse.
The Professional Conduct Committee sought cancellation of the Practitioner’s registration, censure and an order for costs.
Counsel emphasised that the primary purpose of cancellation was not to punish but rather to protect the public by upholding professional standards and deterring similar conduct, the report said.
Lal said she was facing mounting debt and a stressful home situation at the time, and felt “extreme” pressure to change this.
A tribunal of five, led by barrister Maria Dew QC, said: “This was a serious case of dishonesty” but considered the cancellation unnecessary.
“We do not see that this is necessary to protect the public or uphold professional standards in this case. The practitioner has demonstrated that she is capable of rehabilitation.
“However, we do consider it appropriate and proportionate to suspend the Practitioner’s registration as an enrolled nurse for a period nine months.
“A period of suspension is necessary to mark the seriousness of the offending and to make clear to the profession that such conduct will have professional consequences,” the tribunal said in its decision.
If Lal chooses to return to practice, she will be required to complete a Nursing Council approved course in ethics within six months and notify prospective employers about this Tribunal decision for a period of 12 months.
A reader writes:
“My mother (91) and father (97) had been using a handyman/gardener for about three years. He seemed to do a good job and got on with them to the point where he was almost becoming like a son to them. This wasn’t problematic until there became an urgent need for my mother to move into a rest home because she had lost most of her physical mobility and had had to go to hospital for on two occasions within the same week or because of other health problems.
After much difficulty, I managed to find a hospital rest home bed for my mother in a retirement village/rest home that also had a serviced apartment that my father could purchase so that he could be close to her.
I was going to direct the handyman/gardener from this point on as to looking after their large family home, but he decided to stop working for my parents as he had an issue with me. My father called him back and after that the understanding was that my father would continue to tell him what needed to be done.
Not long after that my mother passed away, and this is when the financial abuse started to become noticeable.
My father received rent from a house he owned of $560 a month, all of which he would give to the gardener/handyman who didn’t seem to be doing a lot around the property.
The relationship between my father and the gardener/handyman had become even more father and son like, with the gardener/handyman calling my father “dad”.
Then he charged $1000 for what looked like about a days work. By this time myself and my siblings were getting concerned that the gardener/handyman was increasingly overcharging and I asked for receipts.
The gardener/handyman then claimed I threatened his mother when I rang her to leave a message. The gardener/handyman did not, or claimed not, to have a phone or a bank account, with all payments strictly cash.
He said that if I ever threatened his mother again he would find out where I lived and deal to me. He then went to see my father and made all sorts of accusations about me including that I was disrespectful to my parents.
One of my sisters took over dealing with the handyman and suggested a “cooling off” period of two weeks. We paid him the $1000 and a few weeks later he told my father he wouldn’t be working for him anymore.
Of course, the situation was a lot more complicated than this brief description outlines. The essence of the problem was that my father had complete faith in the gardener/handyman and was not able to comprehend that he could be ripping him off.
My father had complete charge over his own affairs and while in a state of mind that made him vulnerable, would not have been considered by a doctor to be in need of the Enduring Power Of Attorney being enacted.
It is quite feasible for old people to be ripped off by people they know, while concerned families have no power to do anything about this.
Our concern was that the financial abuse was going to increase and my father could be manipulated into other actions as well such as having my father’s Will altered.
Luckily, and surprisingly, my father agreed to enacting the EDOA for his financial affairs during the cooling off period which my sister arranged with the lawyers so that there was some degree of protection if my father had kept the gardener/handyman”.
An Auckland family counsellor is calling for more protection for the elderly from the risk of financial abuse by professional caregivers.
Stephen Taylor, family counsellor and director of Relationship Matters Ltd, believes stronger measures are needed to protect vulnerable elderly from being exploited by state-funded and private in-home caregivers.
“One case I became familiar with was a woman who worked as an in-home caregiver, and who had groomed and then financially exploited so many elderly clients, she ended up with a portfolio of 10 properties to her name.”
Mr Taylor believes the elderly, who have often built up significant assets during their lives, are vulnerable to being emotionally manipulated by caregivers because of the nature of the role.
Often, he says, families are powerless to intervene in the situation.
Mr Taylor is inviting anyone who has had this experience to contact him, as he plans to present a petition to the government calling for the creation of stronger measures to protect the elderly.
Some of the obvious areas that need addressing, Mr Taylor says, are:
* Lawyers of clients should be excluded from being beneficiaries of their client’s Will.
* Financial abuse of the elderly should be a “criminal” matter instead of a “civil” matter.
* Criminal sanctions must be available to families and agencies to prosecute caregivers who place their clients in a position of dependency on them.
* No service provider, public or state-funded, that is supplying any service to a client should be involved in the personal and financial affairs of their clients.
* There should be a professional association for private and state funded caregivers (in home or otherwise), a Code of Ethical Conduct, and meaningful training in ethics.
* Money and gifts from clients to their service delivery provider should be off limits.
* The Health & Disability Commissioner needs more firepower, funding, people and resources to speed up decisions on complaints which currently can take more than a year.
* Anyone who is professional caregiver should have an EPOA if they are a recipient of any personal financial benefits from an elderly person, and if they do have an EPOA and/or have been named as a beneficiary of a client’s Will, then they should have to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they attained the role of a beneficiary legitimately.
Mr Taylor may be contacted at email@example.com
Please go to https://bewarecare.org/ for more information on this issue, and to share your story of elder financial abuse.
A daughter regularly goes to visit her elderly mother in a high-profile NZ-based Retirement Home Provider.
A state-funded Caregiver is appointed by the Retirement Home Provider to provide in-home caregiving services to the elderly mother.
Over time, the daughter notices that the caregiver appears to be spending a lot of time with the daughters mother, and that the daughters mother talks about “how wonderful” the caregiver is.
One day, the daughter arrives at the mothers unit, and sees two caregivers working on site.
“This is one of my team, and I’m just training them up” is the explanation given by the original caregiver.
On a subsequent visit, the daughter visits her mother, and finds the “junior” caregiver sitting in the lounge of the unit, but the caregiver is not doing any work.
“Where’s Mum?” enquired the daughter.
“In with my Team Leader, but you can’t go in there, they are having a private conversation”.
Yes, the Team leader was indeed “having a private conversation” with the daughters elderly mother- the conversation was about the mother giving money to the two caregivers. One would have the conversation, and one would stay in the lounge to make sure no-one else could come in and interrupt the conversation.
10 points for anyone who can guess what the daughter (as EPOA) found out when she checked her elderly mothers bank statements, and cross-checked the sharp rise in account debits leaving her mothers account (money going into two separate third-party accounts), since the caregiver began providing state-funded service delivery?
Imagine a couple in their nineties, being NASC – assessed by a third party DHB-funded NGO.
The NASC assessor starts the assessment process by (wrongly) throwing suspicion on the family for even having the temerity to consider that their parents might be in need of an increased level of support and assistance.
The Rest Home Provider communicates a similar suspicion against the family.
The NASC results for the couple are then found to be disparate (in conflict).
One party to the couple is fully functional, the other party is in need of near-hospital rest home care.
The NASC assessor makes the recommendation that the couple should be split apart.
The family (quite rightly) tell the NASC Assessor to get stuffed, and manage to purchase a serviced unit for their elderly parents that doesn’t have as many restrictions as a hospital care unit.
Soon after the elderly couple settle in, one of the Rest Home Providers staff (a gardener) arrives on the property, and begins to strike up a relationship with the couple.
Over time, the Rest Home Providers gardener (who is also quite a proficient handyman) gains the confidence of the couple, and is the “go to” person for any jobs that need doing around the property.
The gardener begins calling the elderly male in the couple relationship ‘Dad”.
The gardener then starts to “notice” jobs around the house that the gardener thinks might need some attention (jobs which don’t actually need any attention at all).
The gardener not only illegitimately increases the number of jobs he is doing around the elderly couples house; he also starts ratcheting his hourly rate up as well.
By the time the elderly couples family members cotton on to what is going on, the gardener is charging $1000.00 a day for a days work – all right under the nose of their employer, the same Rest Home Provider who none-too-subtly accused the family members of trying to fob off their 90 year old parents.
When called out for his outrageous and exploitive behaviour, the gardener threatens physical harm upon the elderly couples family members.
The Rest Home does nothing – as far as we know, the gardener is still employed by the Rest Home Provider.
Bewarecare has the name and location of the Rest Home Provider – we are considering whether or not to publish it.
So, I wrote this:
And Age Concerns Response was this (see page 8):
Key quote in the article:
“I have seen elder abuse up close,” he says, “and I know there are people out there who would move heaven and earth to end the life of a person if it meant they could get their hands on the money. I have seen and heard of some terrible experiences”.