Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal who stole from patients faces fresh investigation.

The Nursing Council are investigating claims that decision was based on false information. Photo / 123rf
The Nursing Council are investigating claims that decision was based on false information. Photo / 123rf

Emma RussellBy: Emma Russell

Emma Russell is a health reporter for the New Zealand Herald emma.russell@nzherald.co.nz

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But the Blockhouse Bay centre has since rescinded her job offer.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.

Dishonesty convictions

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.

Auckland nurse who stole more than $1200 from patient allowed to continue nursing, says Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal given second chance to continue nursing after stealing from a patient. Photo / 123rf
Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal given second chance to continue nursing after stealing from a patient. Photo / 123rf

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.

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.

Rest Home Gardener turns vulnerable elderly client into his own personal EFTPOS machine.

EFTPOS Compliance & Fraud - Fraudulent EFTPOS | Smartpay

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”.

Netflix Drama “I Care a Lot” highlights financial abuse of elderly by state-funded caregivers.

A drama about a managed care facility for the elderly, whereby senior management scan the health files of local hospitals, to determine who to target for the acquisition of the elderly persons assets.

Financial elder grooming and abuse set to increase if Euthanasia Bill passed, says NZ Aged Care Founder.

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Brien Cree, Executive Chairman and founder of Radius Care.

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”.

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sponsored-stories/assisted-dying-could-increase-elder-abuse/MGPZLHLZFS22GRNPLU7HXNGFKU/

What does “Elderly Financial Grooming and Abuse” look like? An Estate Lawyer explains the Common Types of Financial Abuse by Caregivers.

A British Columbia nurse was fined by the College of registered nurses in the amount of $17,500, plus ordered to pay investigation costs of $16,500 for financial abuse of an elderly couple, now deceased.

The nurses misdeeds included being the couple’s power of attorney, putting her name on title to their mobile home, paying for her dentistry, vision care and $1600 a month medications, all on top of her monthly salary.

The nurses college rather understatedly reported that she “failed to maintain appropriate boundaries in her seeking of substantial financial benefits from an informed client.”

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Community Care Worker jailed for 6 years for fraudently obtaining $300,000 from elderly client she was employed to care for.

Care worker jailed after stealing £300,000 from elderly patients | Your  Local Guardian
Community Care Worker Maria Anderson.

A care worker who preyed on two vulnerable pensioners and stole at least £300,000 from them has been jailed for six years.

https://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/10793830.care-worker-jailed-after-stealing-300000-from-elderly-patients/

Agency-employed Community Support Worker jailed for stealing $16k from elderly men she was caring for.

Greedy' east Hull support worker jailed for stealing £16,000 for takeaways  and Asda shopping - Hull Live
Community Support Worker Claire Ostler

A support worker who was supposed to protect the interests of two vulnerable men instead plundered their bank accounts – and spent their money on pet insurance, “dance equipment”, takeaway food and her weekly shopping.

https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/hull-east-yorkshire-news/hull-claire-ostler-jailed-asda-3254772

Community Support Worker jailed for stealing $6k from elderly pensioner.

A support worker has been jailed for stealing more than £6,000 from a pensioner she was looking after.

Tips for Preventing, Detecting, and Reporting Financial Abuse of the Elderly

https://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/16757679.support-worker-jailed-after-stealing-6k-from-vulnerable-pensioner/