Aging in Place in an Uber Economy - Is It Safe?

Ripped from the headlines -

February 22 - Kalamazoo, Mich. - an Uber taxi driver goes on a killing spree. On the same day in another city, a pedestrian struck by an Uber Driver in Connecticut is pronounced dead at hospital.

November 19 - Lyft faces a wrongful death lawsuit after one of its drivers allegedly struck and killed a Miami motorcyclist.

These are but some of the stories ripped from the headlines and featured on the site Who's Driving You. Now to be fair, that site is operated by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) who is protecting their taxi workers while calling into question the background checks given to drivers of their competitors.

Here's the thing. My fellow boomers and I all say we want to age in place. And over time to be able to do that we are going to be dependent on certain services to help us get around. And we will depend on other services to come to us in our home.

Often the people who service us are contractors for agencies. It's what experts call the 1099 economy. 1099 contractors can be excellent but often the screening of those workers is far from it.

Consider all of the services cropping up. In my article on Senior Care at about.com, I list some of these.

  • UberASSIST is a new option that will allow riders needing an extra hand to request safe and reliable rides and provide additional assistance to seniors and people with disabilities. Driver-partners are specifically trained by Open Doors Organization to assist riders into vehicles and can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.

    The Open Doors Organization partners nationally and internationally with associations, convention & tourism bureaus and corporations to help them better understand and serve their customers with disabilities. Services include focus group research, individualized marketing strategies, creation of training and marketing videos, guidance in ADA compliance, and the organization of workshops and symposia.

  • Instacart is a grocery delivery service that connects you with Personal Shoppers in your area who pick up and deliver your groceries from your favorite local stores.
  • AirbNb-Millions of people including seniors, list their space and book unique accommodations anywhere in the world. My mom has a friend in Philadelphia who still lives in the three-story town home that has been in the family forever. She is only able to live on the first floor because of health reasons. She could use a service like AirbNb to find people to use the other two floors. Likely these will be young adults who can also provide social benefit for a senior. More than half of Airbnb's hosts are older than 40, and 10 percent of them are older than 60. But just like any other rental, who is doing a background check on the tenants?
  • Honor - While there are a myriad of non-medical home care companies emerging, Honor is following an Uber model, allowing people to use an app on their phone to select, schedule and monitor care from anywhere. Their value proposition is being able to better match a caregiver with a patient.
  • Alfred is a weekly subscription service that handles your grocery shopping, laundry, dry cleaning and house cleaning.
  • TaskRabbit automates your ability to find people to do everyday chores and errands.

I am not an HR expert but clearly HR experts are weighing in on the 1099 economy. And so are the companies that feel threatened by the Uber-type companies.

In a recent associated press article, Uber's background checks were called into question:

Taxi advocates hit Uber the hardest saying that Uber checks fail because they do not include fingerprinting of would-be drivers. Many law enforcement experts say a fingerprint search is the most comprehensive way to check someone's background, and taxi regulators typically require one.

To be fair there are plenty of taxi drivers who commit violent crimes.

And I would imagine Uber's partnerships with The Open Doors Organization helps in the selection of appropriate drivers. Uber's partnership with AARP attacks the issue from another angle - hiring more boomers and retirees as drivers. I imagine AARP would not enter lightly into something that could have major PR ramifications if things went wrong.

Since there are no consistent hiring practices among these types of services, it may fall on you and me to vet people. Here are some tips.

  • Always ask for, receive and check out references. On Uber you can check your incoming driver's rating and get a sense of who will be showing up.
  • Ask your friends and neighbors who they would recommend. The best contractors are found by word of mouth.
  • If you're uncomfortable having a contractor come to your home ask a relative, friend or neighbor to be there with you.
  • Make sure the contractor has their insurance current.
  • Check with the state attorney general's office and the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the company placing contractors.
  • Does the agency placing contractors, say home health aides, closely supervise the quality of care?
  • Does the contractor provide a written document that states the rights and responsibilities of the client, and explains the company's privacy policy and code of ethics?
  • Does the agency mandate ongoing training of its employees to continually update their skills?
  • Use local companies whose address you can verify.
  • Avoid unlicensed contractors.
  • If possible, pay by credit card. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay cash.

I am hoping HR experts weigh in and tell us all how we can become better and safer consumers when dealing with contractors in the 1099 economy.