CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A local respiratory therapist came to 19 News, wanting to warn others or seek protection for home healthcare workers still in the business.
Last November, she went to the Canton Police department with a black eye and bruises all over her body recounting the day one of her patients attacked her.
“I knew I was in trouble. I immediately thought, I’m going to die,” she said. “It just makes me sick to think what his end game was. What was he going to do with me if he did kill me?”
She had gone to David Foster’s house to fix a breathing machine she set up for him a few weeks beforehand.
She said when she arrived, nothing was wrong with his machine, and he refused to let her leave before he began his attack.
She found out in the days afterward, that Foster already was a convicted felon.
The respiratory therapist asked we not identify her for her safety.
After hearing her story, 19 News investigators started digging deeper trying to find out what level of responsibility companies have to protect not their clients, but their workers.
Is an employer required to do any sort of background check on a client before sending a healthcare worker to their home?
Would this woman’s company have sent her alone to this man’s house if it knew about about his past?
Foster’d spent nearly three decades in prison for rape and drug charges.
“I was shocked just sickened by the fact I was in this person’s home and had no idea that he had this history,” she said.
We asked her if she thought there was anything that could have prevented the incident from happening, and she said, “Yeah. I think that had we done some sort of background checks, I think we would have found out that you know this probably isn’t a good place to send a single woman, a small woman by herself.”
But, she recognizes that could be a big ask, depending on how in depth the check is.
“I know it’s probably a huge expense for these companies,” she said. “But also, it’s a matter of life and death. It’s going to happen again, and somebody is not going to be as lucky as I am.”
According to a 2019 study by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, nearly eight percent of home healthcare aids face physical abuse from patients.
The organization’s president said, “There needs to be additional protection for workers and for clients.”
Here in Ohio, we spoke to the Director of the Ohio Heath Care Association Pete Van Runkle about this woman’s assault.
We asked if by industry standards, her company have known that she was going to a violent sex offender’s house.
He said, “I don’t know that there’s any industry standards there, but I would think that that would be something that they should have looked into.”
While Pete Van Runkle says there is no state-mandated requirement that employers background check clients, patients should be at least screened, and not by the healthcare worker themselves.
“I think it’s more the employer’s responsibility, maybe not to background check them in the sense of taking fingerprints and running the BCI check like they would have to do for employees, but I think it does behoove them to have some knowledge of who the person is and what their background is.”
The therapist in this story moved on to another job in a local hospital.
While it does not appear her former employer broke any laws in her case, she’s advocating for those who remain working for home healthcare companies.
“They should have a responsibility to keep their employees safe,” she said.
She asked that we not name her former company, but we did reach for comment.
The company would not tell us whether managers knew about Foster’s past before the therapist went to his home.
In an email, a spokesperson said, ”Though we are unable to comment on specific health issues related to our employees and patients, the safety of our people and our patients is critically important to Medical Service Company. While it is not customary in healthcare to perform background screenings prior to providing care, we have several safeguards in place to avoid these types of situations from occurring. We rely heavily on the health records received from the prescriber for cautionary information, before providing care. Additionally, we have a safety task force to help our people identify higher risk environments as well as necessary safeguard they can take. To further protect our people and our patients, over 90% of the care and contact we have is now provided through a virtual or distanced model, which we expect will carry forward.”
Van Runkle said, ”That’s part of planning care for someone. You have to be able to say okay, here’s what they need and here’s what we’re going to go do.”
It is quite possible that even a from of screening may not have revealed the entire picture in Foster’s case, though.
His former charges were in Hancock County.
He also wouldn’t have popped up on the national sex offender registry.
Though convicted of rape in 1983, 19 Investigates discovered Foster was only court ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years after he got out of prison in 2006.
All that, leaving this therapist honestly wondering if there is a way to keep other home healthcare workers away from the danger she faced.
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” she said.
Her only answer right now, she says, is to the call to tell her story as a warning.
Foster turned down multiple plea deals in this recent case.
He was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this month.