By Mary Beth Klatt
When caring for a loved one at home, most family caregivers reach a point where they realize they need some assistance. Hiring an in-home caregiver can ease the workload, providing help with tasks like bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, companionship and supervision.
The caregiving industry is growing alongside the aging baby boomer population. With so many options, it’s smart to ask questions to ensure your loved one will be in trustworthy hands.
We asked the directors of Respect, a new Chicago-based caregiving app, and Advocacy Services, a care management company, for their top 10 questions to keep in mind when choosing a caregiver agency. Keep this checklist handy as you make calls, ask for referrals and assess costs.
1. Is the company that outsources caregivers an agency or a registry?
The difference is critical, says Josh Mitzen, director of Advocacy Services in Evanston. A registry is simply a listing of available workers. A home care agency, on the other hand, screens, trains and hires workers and completes background checks. That’s not all. The best agencies will often answer calls in the middle of the night, he says. If a worker gets injured on the job, the agency offers workman’s compensation. If the client complains that the worker stole something, agencies often reimburse for the theft, which most registries don’t do, he says.
2. How many caregivers does the agency/registry have on staff?
A newer agency might have only 50 caregivers on staff, but a more established agency might have 200 to 300 workers, giving you more options.
3. Who matches potential caregivers to families?
“It’s tricky to find the right caregiver,” Mitzen says. Reputable agencies send a matchmaker, free of charge, to assess their potential client. What does the house like? Does the prospective client have problems with hearing and understanding foreign accents? A good matchmaker takes this all into account. With Respect’s mobile app, clients can select the best caregivers, watch their videos and pick the care providers they like, according to founders Bruce Masterton and Ross Kimbarovsky.
4. How do you find a good personality fit?
Do the caregiver and your loved one communicate well with one another? Having shared interests can be a sign. A good fit improves the relationship and helps build trust, making the transition to using in-home care easier for your loved one, Masterton says. For example, when a new client indicated that she loved to play board games, Respect matched her with a caregiver who had an interest in board games. “During the first care visit, our caregiver not only played board games with the client, she brought her some new ones to play,” he says. “They hit it off immediately.”
5. How do you stay in touch with the caregiver on the job?
Families want to stay updated on a loved one’s care and wellbeing, Kimbarovsky says, so make sure that the caregiver will be able to communicate with your entire family regularly. When Kimbarovsky and his mother were primary caregivers for his 91-year-old grandfather, they both wanted to have a sense of what was happening when they were not around. “We managed this through regular conversations and phone calls, but sometimes this was a hassle,” he says. The Respect app enables two-way communication with texts and photos between the caregiver and families and provides real-time reports about the caregiver’s location.
6. Is the home care company licensed, bonded, insured and a member of respected business associations?
Search among agencies that are licensed, bonded and insured, Mitzen says. Respect is a corporate partner with Aging Life Care Association and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, which offer resources that can help you find licensed agencies.
7. How much will it cost you?
Hourly rates start at $24 per hour for services rendered through Respect. Rates can be higher with a longer-established agency since it has more costs to cover. Ask if there is a minimum number of hours per visit.
8. Who conducts background checks?
Registries and agencies will do background checks, but good agencies will often do more than the mandated checks. Respect conducts screenings and interviews, collects client feedback and reviews, and issues frequent internal performance reviews.
9. Does the company make unannounced site visits?
Many agencies make unannounced site visits to check on the caregivers. This process weeds out caregivers not doing their job or spending all their time on the phone while on site, Mitzen says. You may also want to make an unexpected visit while the caregiver is there, too.
10. How do you retain staff?
Most caregivers need time off to do their best work, Mitzen says, so be cautious about a registry that offers a caregiver who can work two weeks straight without time off. Ongoing training, paid vacation and medical benefits can help an agency retain the best caregivers.
Through a thorough vetting of agencies and prospective caregivers, you can find a trained worker who is not only reliable but also caring and responsible, giving you and your loved one care, comfort and peace of mind.