Tag Archives: healthcare worker

ID Theft: A Danger Even After Death

Take your driver’s license out of your wallet. Flip it over. Now look carefully at the back of it. There’s no box to check for “identity donor.” Yet when it comes to identity-related crimes, one of the greatest times of vulnerability is immediately after you die.

You can do everything right. You can use long and strong passwords and account-unique user names. You can check your financial accounts and monitor your credit on a regular basis, you can set up transaction alerts on your credit cards – even order a credit freeze – and then you die. Well, not entirely…

Include Identity in Your Estate Planning

A good identity thief can undo all your fraud precautions with a few phone calls. Most people don’t think about this, because it’s a wee bit late to refinance the family homestead – much less worry about interest rates – when you’re dead. Regardless, the recently deceased continue to exist on paper, and this may be the case for some time. Meanwhile, many bankable facts – key among them your Social Security number and personally identifiable information – are just sort of there in the form of “zombie” purchasing power. An identity thief can use that purchasing power to drain your bank accounts, open new credit in your name and perpetrate all sorts of fraud that can harm your family and heirs.

Think of your post-mortem identity as a would-be extra on “The Shopping Dead.” Now that you have that image in your head, take the time to arrange for the deactivation of your identity by making it part of your estate planning. This will mostly take the form of a to-do list for whomever will be handling your affairs, because nothing can be done till…well, you know, after the fact. There are many good resources, including this list from IDT911.

There are many different scams out there, ranging from the misappropriation of Social Security payments to the more old-fashioned practice of ghosting, whereby a person of approximately the same age assumes the identity of the deceased. In keeping with the proliferation of possible crimes, there are plenty of criminals out there who make a living in this post-mortem niche. They scan death notices in the local paper, read obituaries, even attend funerals and, make no mistake about it, can get a lot of shopping done with your available credit before the three credit reporting agencies and your current and future potential creditors are notified of your demise. Those same bad guys may also use your Social Security number to grab a big fat tax refund (if you’re lucky enough to pass away during tax filing season).

How will they get the information needed to commit fraud? Sometimes the perpetrator is a family member, so he already has access. But more often, family members are distracted and distraught. There are visitors who come and go, unchecked, and of course the numerous demands of making final arrangements and dealing with matters of the estate. If there was a long illness, unsupervised healthcare workers may have had the run of the deceased’s domicile – including the owner’s most sensitive information. Maybe the wake was at the deceased’s home, or people sat shiva there. The opportunities for fraud abound. Funerals, of course, provide a thief with a precise time to get what he or she wants. But instead of grabbing the television or the silver (too easy to miss), an envelope containing a financial statement or a copy of last year’s tax return might go walkabout. From there, it’s a race to apply for as much credit and buy as many pricy things for resale as possible before the money spigot coughs credit dust.

The Bigger Picture

Government agencies are famously slow to get the news of a person’s undoing.

An audit of the Social Security Administration conducted by the Office of the Inspector General found approximately 6.5 million Social Security numbers belonging to people aged 112 or older whose death information wasn’t in the system. Of those numberholders, only 13 people were still receiving payments; the rest consisted of “numberholders who exceeded maximum reasonable life expectancies and were likely deceased.” The fact that their deaths were not recorded in Numident (the SSA’s numerical identification system), and thus are also missing on the Master Death List, leaves plenty of runway for misconduct. According to the audit report, the “SSA received 4,024 E-Verify inquiries using the SSNs of 3,873 numberholders born before June 16, 1901.”

On the off chance you missed the memo while diving for sunken treasure at the bottom of Loon Lake: Identity theft is now the third certainty in life, right behind death and taxes. When a loved one passes, there is a trifecta, which is why it’s trebly important to protect against the threat of a different kind of life everlasting.

The Need to Protect Healthcare Workers

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just released their Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit. This toolkit provides a much-needed comprehensive resource for healthcare employers to use to protect their staff from respiratory hazards like airborne infectious diseases, chemicals and certain drugs that, when inhaled, cause illness, infection or other physical harm to healthcare workers.

We know that national public health preparedness has increased because of the Ebola virus cases in Dallas last year, but the nation may not know that federal agencies like NIOSH and OSHA are always working to prepare healthcare and other workplaces from exposures to dangerous organisms and chemicals that cause infection, illness and other harm. This new toolkit is evidence of that effort. According to the International Safety Center and its EPINet data, current compliance with the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like respirators, and even lesser protection like surgical masks, is so low (less than 20%!) that this effort can only help to improve compliance.

The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard has long required that healthcare employers have a respiratory protection program to protect workers exposed to respiratory hazards, but the standard is as complex as are the hazards and the circumstances surrounding patient care in hospitals. This toolkit helps healthcare and program administrators sort through the standard, overcome what they may see as daunting tasks and tackle their respiratory protection programs one step at a time.

The toolkit is long — 96 pages long — but fear not. It provides great pull-out, grab-and-go tools like the “Respiratory Protection Program evaluation checklist” and a “Respiratory Protection Program template” that can be used in healthcare facilities to create, adapt or modernize programs. Not all respiratory protection program administrators are seasoned at putting programs in place that are effective, and this resource will surely assist even the novice pull together a safe program.

Hats off to NIOSH and OSHA! You remind us that keeping our patients as safe as possible is only possible when we keep our workers as safe as possible.

Your comments about the utility of this resource would be appreciated by NIOSH, as it will help inform the development of future companion resources. You can kindly email your feedback directly to Debra Novak’s email: ian5@cdc.gov.

‘Un-Healthcare’ Work Deserves Focus

Some, like me, who have dedicated their lives to the maintenance and improvement of physical and mental health, may not consider themselves traditional, clinical “healthcare workers.” We may feel as if we work on the fringe, on the outside. We are not nurses or physicians. We work in public health, wellness, nutrition, occupational safety, health economics, fitness, risk management, pharmacy, laboratory, research, insurance and other similar non-traditional clinical professions. We may feel we make a lesser impact on patient care and overall community wellness and vitality. Given historical reference, however, this is absolutely untrue.

The term “healthcare” (whether one word or two) has not been used at all in books, papers, references or published text over hundreds of years, until the mid-1980s. But since the late 1700s, those of us “living on the fringes” have been healthcare workers in the true sense of the practice.

We may not provide bedside patient care in a healthcare or hospital setting, but we do:

  • Prevent infectious disease by promoting the use of vaccines;
  • Protect the public from pathogenic organisms through water and food sanitation;
  • Prevent addiction and antibiotic resistance through pharmaceutical stewardship;
  • Manage repercussions from post-traumatic stress with mental health interventions;
  • Research global disease trends to stop them in their tracks;
  • Manage risk by improving safety, security and improving quality;
  • Decrease work-related injury and illness by creating safe workplaces, and
  • Prevent heart disease and weight-related cancers by promoting regular exercise.

Those efforts ensure that a population’s health (both physical and mental) does not suffer, that it is either maintained or, better yet, improved. We are the “Un-Healthcare Workers.”

It is especially important that traditional healthcare organizations and healthcare workers know this now. As healthcare systems around the world are caring for patients with emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and re-emerging vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, they need to consider that we un-healthcare workers have responsibility for protecting our communities. If we can prevent diseases from becoming epidemic in our communities, healthcare providers working in healthcare settings like hospitals can focus more on providing needed care to those with emergent injuries and chronic disease.

The American Public Health Association (APHA), which has represented people protecting the public since 1872, announced a policy in November on preventing Ebola and “globally emerging infectious disease threats” that marked a significant change in the recognition of the “un-healthcare worker.” The APHA identified the need to focus efforts on preventing infectious disease in the community and workplaces as a means to protect healthcare systems from exposure to diseases that may change the overall landscape of inpatient care. In the process, the APHA advocates for the role that we “un-healthcare workers” have in maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of our population so that healthcare workers can focus on medical interventions for those who really need it.

Sound, science-based public policy and fiscally grounded public health funding can do what it did for the hundreds of years prior to the mid-1980s; it can protect our communities from disease, so that we can protect the vitality of our healthcare systems.