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Protecting vulnerable elderly from possibility of undue influence is domain of investigative bodies.

The NZIPC has been asked to comment on a very worrying situation that has been recently bought to its attention.

According to a detailed advisory received by the NZIPC, a formal complaint has been laid with a District Health Board, and the Office of the Health & Disability Commissioner against an NGO, and an NGO-employed Community Support Worker (CSW).

The report alleges that the CSW, whilst in the employ of an NGO, provided home-care services to an elderly NGO client for approximately 6 months prior to the client passing away.

After the NGO home-care client passed away, it was discovered that the main beneficiary of the elderly clients (substantial) estate was none other than the adult son of the CSW who had been providing the home-care service for the elderly client for the past 6 months.

The report records that no prior relationship existed between the deceased client and the CSW, and that the Code of Conduct enlisted by the NGO prohibited NGO staff from accepting gifts of any nature from clients.

The NGO claims that they had no prior knowledge of one of their clients nominating an NGO staff members' son as the main beneficiary of the estate, and in any case, the staff member concerned would have been in breach of their employment Code of Conduct by accepting such an offer from a client.

The report advises that the case is now before the Court, and is being simultaneously investigated by the relevant DHB, and the Office of the Health & Disability Commissioner.

From NZIPC's perspective the organisation is aware that Codes of Conduct across various Social Service disciplines have much to say about the role of professional boundaries for agency staff and / or contractors when delivering service provision.

The Office of the Health & Disability Comission issues a Consumer Code of Rights and on its face, it appears that Rights 2 & 4 could come under some significant scrutiny by the HDC in this situation.

The provision of care to the elderly is dependent upon the organisations and individuals being highly trusted to do so, and to ensure that service providers make no attempts to financially benefit themselves of their families when working with often vulnerable and at times equity and / or cash-rich clients.

While it is likely to be appropriate for a deceased estate to bequeath a donation to an organisation whose service the testator have been grateful for, it is likely to be inappropriate (and possibly even illegal) for an individual contractually employed service provider to enrich themselves or a member of their family, in breach of an established Code of Conduct.

The NZIPC recommends that individual contractually employed social service provider practitioners refuse to engage in any and all conversations with clients, or attempts by clients in any way whatsoever to "gift" the service provider.

In terms of the above situation, the NZIPC supports this case being investigated by the relevant DHB, and the Office of the HDC.

It is for these statutory organisations to determine the level of protection the elderly are entitled to receive when in receipt of essential service provision.


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