In the six months since Napa County began enforcing a new law designed to protect the elderly from criminals, nearly 200 caregivers have been issued permits after undergoing background checks, the county reports.

As of Jan. 5, Napa County has issued 69 cards to individual caregivers and another 125 cards to employees of caregiver service firms, said John Tuteur, Napa County’s assessor-recorder/county clerk. The first permit was issued July 22, he said.

Under the Napa County Caregiver Permit Program, anyone who receives free room and board or any other form of compensation in exchange for caregiving has to obtain a permit. The program is administered by the Area Agency on Aging serving Napa and Solano counties.

For a private caregiver, the background check fee, paid to the Area Agency on Aging, is $90 for the first year, $79 for the second year and $67 for the following year. The annual permit, issued by the Napa County clerk/recorder, costs $20 per year. 

Caregiver agencies pay $35 to submit a batch of names of new employees who need background checks and another $20 for the permits.

Exempted from the caregiver permit program are state-licensed workers, including registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and men and women employed through the county’s In-Home Support Services. 

Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, who spearheaded efforts to pass the caregiver ordinance, the first of its kind in California, said he’s pleased with the response from both the public and the caregiver community.

“The number of permit applications is actually a little higher than we might have expected six months into the program,” he said. “While we have no way of assessing the total number of caregivers in the county, the number of permits issued thus far is a strong indication that a significant number of caregivers and caregiver firms in the county are aware of and are complying with the ordinance requirements,” he said.

Lieberstein’s office has the option of charging caregivers who don’t have a permit with a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, Lieberstein said.

“To date, we have not received any reports of elder abuse by a non-licensed caregiver,” he said.

But others, including Leanne Martinsen, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, expected more applications. “We’re not reaching enough people,” she said. “We know there are more caregivers out there.”

The law is a tool for families to use and to keep people safe, Martinsen said. 

Robert Nations, chief executive officer of Senior Helpers, also supports the caregiver ordinance, even though it means added costs to his company. “What we’re doing in the county is a good start,” he said.

But given the response, he believes there is a need to educate both the public and caregivers. “We’ve got to address both audiences,” he said.

Meanwhile, the outreach effort continues.

Lieberstein has narrated a six-minute video about the caregiver ordinance. The video is on the Napa County website and runs periodically on cable Channel 28. 

“Our caregiver ordinance has also been the subject of a three-minute radio spot run throughout California on public radio a couple months ago,” Lieberstein also said. “We have been asked to do an overview of our program at the statewide Elder Abuse Symposium sponsored by the California District Attorneys Association and have received numerous inquiries from other counties interested in pursuing a similar program.

“Additionally, our program has also been picked up on a nationwide elder abuse listserve and we have received inquiries from jurisdictions outside California, including the Arizona Attorney General’s Office,” Lieberstein said.

“Needless to say, we are very proud of what we have accomplished together to protect elders in our county.”

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