A couple is going public after the caregiver they hired didn't have the medical skills she claimed to have, putting their severely disabled daughter at risk and raising questions about the screening process and how effective it is.

"As a mom, it made me sick to my stomach to think that I trusted this woman with Stephanie, thinking that she would have that knowledge that when things went wrong she'd be able to handle it," Maureen Hall said. 

21-year-old Stephanie Hall-Wilkins has cerebral palsy and is completely dependent on others for care. She suffers from severe seizures and has to be fed through a tube in her stomach. 

Since Stephanie was born, Hall and her husband Steve Wilkins have taken on the majority of Stephanie's care. They are getting older and decided they needed help, so they hired Wee Care Placement Agency out of Toronto to find them a caregiver with nursing experience. 

Maureen Hall, Steve Wilkins and Stephanie

Maureen Hall and Steve Wilkins handle the majority of care for their severely disabled daughter Stephanie (CBC)

The agency found Hershey Romero, from the Philippines. The couple paid more than $10,000 in agency fees and other costs to bring her to Canada under the federal government's Live-in Caregiver program. The program allows Canadians to hire caregivers with skills that range from housekeepers to nurses. 

Halls said Romero seemed to be exactly what they needed.

"I had a Skype interview… my three big questions were, have you had any experience with g-tube (gastric tube) feeding and seizures and medication? All the answers were 'Yes, I have.'"  

Lack of medical know-how obvious 

But the couple said Romero seemed "dumbfounded" when asked to do simple medical tasks.  They said, at one point, she confused Stephanie's seizure medication with Advil. 

Worst of all, Hall said, even though she was responsible for feeding Stephanie, for days Romero failed to notice a problem with the feeding tube. It had become damaged, and dislodged from Stephanie's stomach. The result was an infection around the area. 

"We finally came out and asked her. She said she didn't pass her nursing and didn't have the qualifications in order to understand the needs of Stephanie. We basically called her a liar and asked her to leave," Hall said.

Go Public contacted Hershey Romero to ask about the couple's allegations and concerns. She didn't return our messages by our deadline.

We also contacted authorities in the Philippines to do our own checks and discovered while Romero did get her nursing degree, she failed the board exams and was never a practising nurse.

Vetting system failing, says advocate

Ottawa made changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in November which resulted in fewer caregivers being accepted into Canada. 

It now has different criteria for those hired to look after children versus caregivers working with people who have "high medical needs." 

Those changes were made after Hall and Wilkins hired Romero. 

But while the rules may now be tighter, advocates say the required agency and government qualification checks are lacking. 

"Clearly the rules are too broad. In Canada, there are not actual national standards of proficiency for people who provide home care," said Susan Eng,  an advocate for seniors and people with disabilities. 

Susan Eng

Susan Eng is an advocate who says the vetting process for caregivers who look after seniors and people with disabilities is inadequate. (CBC)

She said agencies and government officials are only required to verify paperwork, but when it comes to caring for vulnerable people, the system should also test skills. 

"Across the country, people who are going to be looking after a loved one in your home need, at the bare minimum, the capacity to handle a person who needs the care,"  Eng said. 

Agency also 'failed', says couple 

Hall and Wilkins paid thousands to the agency to find a caregiver and to ensure she had the right skills.

"I couldn't have been any clearer, my concerns are it has to be a nurse. And they even said it would be difficult to find one, there are a lot of nannies in the pool but not a lot that have the medical experience. In my opinion, they were the ones doing all the checking," Hall said. 

But according to Citizenship and Immigration, ultimately it is the employer — not the agency — who is responsible "for ensuring that the temporary foreign workers being hired have the training, qualifications and experience required to successfully and safely perform the job duties of the position for which they are hired."  

CIC said government checks come later, but only to "investigate and verify information, if necessary, in order to ensure that information submitted by applicants is legitimate."  

Nanny agency says it did required checks

Go Public put Hall and Wilkins' concerns to Robyn Zeldin, the owner of Wee Care Placement Agency. 

She told us the agency did the required checks and more, including verifying transcripts and the nursing degree from a school in the Philippines that Romero provided.

Robyn Zeldin

Robyn Zeldin, owner of Wee Care Placement, says the agency did all the required checks. (CBC)

It also conducted an interview to make sure Romero was able to meet the qualifications the family required. But she said the agency was misled too.

"In Hershey's application, her letter that she writes herself, she details her experience in schooling as a nurse and the fact that she passed the board exams and her experience with nursing in detail," she said.

Caregiver allowed to stay 

Given the circumstances, Hall and Wilkins thought Romero would have to leave Canada, but discovered that under temporary foreign worker rules, she could stay if she found other work. 

Once in Canada, caregivers are allowed to stay and apply for permanent residency, if they work 24 out of the 48 months after their date of arrival.

"I said she had deceived Maureen and me, put Stephanie at risk and that she wasn't a nurse, she didn't pass any of the exams. All [Romero's] response was: Could she have termination pay," said Wilkins.

Adding, "I think we really need to take a better look at who we allow into this country." 

Wilkins says he's upset by the idea that Romeo might work with another family.

Go Public found an ad posted on a nanny hiring website, with Romero's name and photo. Her listed qualifications and experience include caring for an adult with special needs.

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Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article identified the nanny agency as Wee Care Nanny Placement Agency. Its correct name is Wee Care Placement Agency.
    Oct 27, 2015 11:54 AM ET