A nation is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable.

Which makes Jacklyn Perry Ryan's new book, "CareGivers ScareTakers: Exposing Fraud in Senior Care," important. It is inspired by the mistreatment of her father by a so-called "caregiver" and the discovery that his plight was far more pervasive within the lucrative industry than she'd realized.

Everything initially seemed to be going "terrific." Yet over time, Jacklyn realized her father was receiving just the opposite treatment. That inspired her to detail the behavior of an "unscrupulous caregiver hired by a home care agency and how pervasive this problem has become."

"I'm at the age 'I don't care,' and that's a good but scary thing." She said she is simply getting an important message out.

One caregiver she calls "Claire" was prompt and engaging. She said she actually felt she'd found a new friend. Her biggest mistake. "Don't allow employees to become friends," Ryan told me.

Other caregivers for her father came and went. He fell four times in a year under one particularly inept caregiver. Yet Claire remained.

Then, two years into her employment, Claire admitted to Jacklyn that she'd earlier done time for methamphetamines. "How comfortable did she feel to divulge that and know she wouldn't be fired?"

Meanwhile, Jacklyn said her father had fallen in love with Claire, "even giving her money on the side beyond what he was paying the agency for her work. He was buying tires for Claire, paid off her house, sent her grandkids to camp. The list goes on. Due to Claire's brainwashing, he believed she was the only person who could properly care for him while isolating him from family and friends to the point he would no longer communicate, even becoming belligerent towards them."

She said the subject of her book is important because it pertains to the care of all our loved ones, as well as how aging folks will be cared for. "The crux of the problem is how can we find the best-qualified people to offer care? Home care services is in the top 10 employment sectors due to the aging of the baby boomer population. It has experienced an annual 5 percent growth over the past two years.

"I've learned some Arkansas home-care agencies don't perform background checks. If they do, it's only required once every five years. Fingerprinting isn't required and drug testing may be random."

Jacklyn lately has been working with a legislator to get more stringent laws approved on behalf of vulnerable citizens.

"On average, caregivers, including CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) are paid $10 to $13 hourly. As things now stand, CNAs fall within the Arkansas School of Nursing and, as such, are required to be fingerprinted. Also, don't assume a caregiver is a licensed CNA.

"Why would anyone want to work with older or disabled people making such a low wage when they can work elsewhere for $15 an hour? Over time, as one ages, their needs increase. Are the same caregivers qualified accordingly to do additional medical and hospice assistance?"

It's become a field with many unscrupulous people who are little more than con artists, learning how to extract "tips" from our vulnerable elderly, Jacklyn added.

It's not just the elderly who are vulnerable. "What makes news sometimes is when molestations occur in day care and would include the Piney Ridge Detention Center and Arkansas' youth lockups. Arkansas needs to become far better at taking care of our vulnerable."

She advises to never make assumptions about caregivers because they work for a particular agency. "I also have a chapter from a licensed CNA, explaining they are only as good as the agency hiring them. There are good agencies and caregivers. But you have to make the effort to find them. Whether you hire an agency or an individual, you should interview them at least four times. Ask for references and background checks and when the last background check was done.

"Nothing happened when the caregivers and our family met with the agency in 2017. I initially thought the agency didn't know what was going on with my father. It threw me for a loop when I realized they knew, but didn't want to lose money."

One dismissed caregiver who performed well told Jacklyn the agency said they couldn't fire her abusive counterpart because they would lose the $200,000 annual account. The honorable caregiver became so distraught after being wrongfully fired that she left Arkansas. Another honest one was wrongly fired and died unexpectedly six months later.

Seems everything always boils down to the money nowadays, doesn't it, valued readers?

Jacklyn autographs books ordered directly from her website caregiverscaretakers.com where she cautions that the stories are only a "glimpse" into this extensive neglect and abuse. "Be aware. Don't wait for a crisis to happen," she admonishes. Her book also is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Smashwords and others.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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