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Post date: July 16 2004

Home Companion Care Service Sued For Failing To Screen Employees And Deceptive Business Practices

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a lawsuit against a Central New York company for failing to protect the health and safety of elderly individuals for whom it provides companion care services.

V.I.P. Companion-Care of Syracuse and Skaneateles and its operators, Andrew Buck and his parents, Girdon E. and Cecile Buck, are accused of failing to comply with a county law that requires background checks and criminal history screenings for all individuals who provide companion care.

According to the lawsuit, V.I.P. claimed that its employees were "thoroughly screened" for their clients' "peace of mind." However, state investigators found that no such checks were undertaken.

"It is imperative that companies that provide companion care services follow the law aimed to protect vulnerable seniors from criminal activity that may endanger their health, safety and finances," Spitzer said.

A 1991 Onondaga County law requires providers of companion care services to obtain the results of criminal background checks and identification cards for prospective employees from the County Sheriff's Department. It also requires employees to submit to fingerprinting by the Sheriff's Department.

Spitzer's lawsuit also alleges that V.I.P. has engaged in other deceptive practices, including billing irregularities, unconscionable contract language and false advertising. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that V.I.P. has failed to comply with New York's Door to Door Sales Protection Act, which requires that consumers be provided with notice of their right to cancel a contract within three business days.

In filing the lawsuit, Spitzer's office is seeking to permanently enjoin V.I.P. Companion-Care from entering into any contract or agreement to provide for companion care services until the company has fully complied with the local law requiring background checks and the Door to Door Sales Act. The lawsuit also seeks restitution for consumers who have been overcharged for services.

Companion care services offered by V.I.P. include "live-in companions" and adult sitters who provide companionship services, respite care for caregivers, transportation and errands, medical reminders, meal preparation, and light housekeeping.

This is the second enforcement action brought by the Attorney General's Office against V.I.P. Companion-Care. In 1998, the company entered into a court-ordered settlement addressing problems similar to those identified in today's lawsuit.

Individuals with questions about this case are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin of the Syracuse Regional office under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General In Charge Winthrop Thurlow.