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Mother's worry prompts change in Wisconsin law

When the pharmacist called to say he couldn't refill a prescription for her special needs son's anti-anxiety medication, Mary Boots was surprised.

Boots, who lives near Hudson, asked one of her son's caregivers, who said she had disposed of the pills because they were outdated. Boots, herself a registered nurse who worked in home health, told the younger woman she shouldn't have done that without someone else observing.

The next morning Boots arrived at her son's house to find him in the bathroom calling for assistance, the alarm clock still ringing and the caregiver sleeping on the couch.

"She was sound asleep," said Boots. "She was more than asleep -- she looked drugged."

Boots tended to her son, fixed his breakfast and about a half hour after she arrived, the aide awoke.

A friend mentioned that the caregiver's name had appeared on the St. Croix County jail log. When Boots asked a jailer how long the woman had been held, the jailer called to a co-worker, "How long was (she) in for this time?"

More checking showed the woman had been convicted of four counts of theft and had a deferred prosecution agreement on a charge of obtaining a prescription drug by fraud. Two charges of misappropriating identification to obtain money had been dismissed but were used as "read-ins" on the other convictions.

On Monday Boots called the agency that provided her son's caregiver.

"I just let that supervisor have it with all I had," she recalled. "My question, over and over, was 'Why did you hire her?'

"The response was, 'I'm sorry. It shouldn't have happened.'"

What Boots and her state representative, Assemblywoman Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, learned was that although home health agencies must do background checks on employees they place in homes, Wisconsin law didn't require the companies to pass that information on to clients or guardians.

They have to do the checks, "but they didn't have to tell you what they find," said Rhoades. "So what good is it?"

"That just seemed wrong. There was a hole there," said Rhoades.

She met with industry representatives and was surprised at what she heard.

"It was very clear they were not going to disclose (the results of background checks)," she said. "They flat out told me no."

As a result, Rhoades sponsored a bill that requires licensed home health agencies to disclose, in writing, to clients or their guardians convictions that caregivers have on their records. The Department of Health and Family Services is charged with developing rules to specify crimes for which convictions must be disclosed.

The bill was introduced in January and signed into law in March.

"Honestly this bill moved through the Legislature faster than just about anything I've seen," said Rhoades. While the original version was tweaked, she said there was widespread support.

"The question Mary called me with is 'How could she get in my house in the first place?'" said Rhoades.

"A call from home looking for help does make a difference," she said. "That's where most of my work comes from."

Boots said she doesn't want her actions to imply criticism of a profession, especially since her son has had some fine caregivers.

"Right now we have the best staff," she said. "We have one gal that I think she could even take over if something happened to me, and I would trust her."

"We just don't want one bad apple giving the industry a bad rep," agreed Rhoades.

Contact Judy Wiff at or 715.426.1049.