Saturday, April 10, 2010

Buyer Beware! Thoroughly check any homecare company you call

Anyone who has read my column knows I own Visiting Angels senior homecare agency in Ann Arbor. Visiting Angels is a franchise company started by Jeffrey Johnson in Baltimore in the early 1990’s and began franchising in 1998.

There are approximately 400 franchises in the US, Canada, and Korea.  Jeffrey Johnson is a social worker who founded this company on excellent care and integrity, which stands true today.

I opened the Ann Arbor office in 2002 and we will proudly be celebrating our 8th year assisting seniors and disabled adults in our community.

My staff and I have worked very hard to provide the best services possible, and have earned an excellent reputation as a truly caring and reliable company.

As with any business, it’s important to periodically check my listings in print and on the internet. Yesterday I spent a little time checking our listings and was horrified to find a company listed as Visiting Angels Home Health Inc., in Ypsilanti!

When someone purchases a franchise they are given a specific territory that is exclusively theirs. Ypsilanti is part of my territory. I also know and associate with all Visiting Angels owners in Michigan as well as hundreds across the nation at our conferences. I immediately knew that this Visiting Angels listing was NOT affiliated with our franchise company.

Visiting Angels is a federally registered trademarked name. The only possible way to own a Visiting Angels homecare agency or to use the name Visiting Angels is the purchase a franchise. Because the name is trademarked, no one can use the name, it is against the law.

People have opened agencies using the name Angel, but it appears as if they’re only trying to ride on the excellent reputation of the Visiting Angels name.

I called the listed number for this agency listed in Ypsilanti and the person on the other end said it was Visiting Angels. I had another person call, and again they said they were Visiting Angels. I was horrified and shocked! I immediately called our corporate office, directed them to the listing on M-Live and Google. They were going to contact this bogus Visiting Angels and instruct them to change the name immediately or face a lawsuit.

I went into full worry and anger mode. I was angry someone had the audacity to steal the name, angry that someone may call this so called agency thinking it was my office, and worried for potential clients and my reputation.

To my knowledge, I don’t know this person. I have no idea what type of character they are, but if they would steal the name of Visiting Angels, my impression was not good. At this point I decided to drive to the listed address to see if they had a sign outdoors, or see what I could find.

This is when my curiosity turned to fear! The address listed for Visiting Angels Home Health Inc., in Ypsilanti was a building torn down and lying as a pile of rubble.

As I photographed the area, quite literally in fear, I worried for the countless seniors or their families who call a phone number to a homecare agency, not knowing what is behind that phone number. I didn’t worry just for this particular situation, but I worry for the probable countless situations like this.

My husband started to do some investigative work and found this company to actually be registered with the State of Michigan as a corporation! How can this happen??? How can someone set up a corporation of a trademarked name? How can someone list a home health company to an address that isn’t there?

As we continued to investigate we found 6 bogus Visiting Angels registered with the State of Michigan! I was more horrified by the minute!

Currently there is no licensing for private duty homecare in the State of Michigan. This means anyone can open a homecare agency. Licensing is individual by state, and there is talk about Michigan going to a licensed state, but this has not happened to date.

Those of us that are running legitimate agencies want to see licensing in Michigan! We know the risk to our seniors who may fall prey to a shoddy company whose goals are nothing more than to take advantage of seniors or make money.

My agency works very hard to keep our clients well cared for and safe. We run the most up to date and comprehensive criminal background checks available. We have an in depth orientation and ongoing training for our caregivers. We care. We not only care for our own clients but we care about our community’s seniors and their well being.

I know there are private caregiver’s and shoddy agencies out there, and I try and educate the community on how to check out agencies and facilities, but until now I never recommended going to their office. This is my new recommendation.

You may need to do nothing more than drive by to see what kind of agency you are thinking about hiring. As in the case of an address to no building, but I recommend going a step beyond that. Go to the office, and if you feel it is unsafe, do not go in. If you feel it’s in a safe area, and looks professional, go in. Meet the office staff, ask the tough questions.

We occasionally will have someone come in to inquire about care. It is rare though. We have serviced hundreds of seniors and disabled adults in 5 years and I believe I can count less than 10 who have actually come to the office.

If you are dealing with a legitimate professional agency, they will welcome you and answer any questions you have. This can be very telling about what type of company you are dealing with.

Ask how long they have been in business, and what their background is? Do they belong to any professional associations? Do they have employees or contractors? What is their hiring process and what type of training do they do and by whom? What type of criminal background checks  do they do and from what company? How long do they retain staff? Can they provide you with references? Can you speak with any of their clients or families? Do they carry liability, bonding, and workman’s compensation insurance? Who is their carrier?

When you ask these questions, write down the answers. If they say they are a part of the Better Business Bureau,  or a professional organization, check it out. Look into the company they get their criminal background checks and see how thorough they are. Just for your information, county criminal background checks are the most accurate and up to date. Crimes are registered in the county first and can take months to a year to be entered into the state system.

When you ask the tough questions see how comfortable they are in their responses. Do they make you feel comfortable or do you have red flags going up? There is a lot to be said about intuition.

You can usually talk to the social work department of the hospital to see if a company is legitimate. They keep a list of agencies that they provide patients.

This may be a lot of work to find an agency you trust and feel comfortable with, but if it keeps you or your loved one safe, it is well worth the time and effort.

I find it sad and scary that a family must go through so much just to find a legitimate and caring company, and that there are so many who would easily be dishonest, or prey on seniors, but it is the time we live in.

I don’t want to deter or scare anyone from care in their home, because there are wonderful, legitimate companies that can be a huge blessing to the families they serve. I just want to caution you that you need to do your homework. Be proactive in keeping you and your loved one safe.

The legitimate and professional Visiting Angels is located at 2860 Carpenter Rd. Suite 300 Ann Arbor, 48108. Our phone number is (734) 929-9201. You can visit our website at, or find any legitimate Visiting Angels office by going to

I invite you to visit our office any time. You will find us friendly, professional and knowledgeable.

Angil Tarach can be reached for questions or comments at, or

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