Aging in America: Searching for the right caregiver



Posted on September 21, 2009 at 6:54 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 6:19 PM


Janet St. James reports

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Nearly eight million people require some sort of home health care, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

Finding the right agency can often be agony for the adult children of elderly patients who want to stay home.

"They were robbed," said Bob Kidder of his elderly parents. "We had people who wouldn't show up, people would show up who didn't get along with my parents and I didn't think that was a good way to treat my parents or anyone else's parents."

That's why Kidder and his wife started their own home care program called MyCare Personal Assistance. The program provides companion care, 24 hours a day if needed.

According to MyCare Personal Assistance, anyone looking for companion or home medical care should follow these tips:

1. Make sure the agency has previous experience.

2. Check the agencies references. Get the agency to give you at least 5-10 current or past clients to call. Call the BBB to make sure there are not any unresolved complaints.

3. Ask about background checks for their caregivers. The law requires that an agency perform a minimum background check in Texas but that doesn't necessarily tell the whole story about a caregiver. The more the agency does to check the caregiver's criminal and work background the better.

4. Ask what their criminal history standards are regarding caregivers. Agencies can hire caregivers with certain felonies.

5. Make sure the agency has a large enough group of caregivers so that if your caregiver can't come in, another can be sent out immediately. Also, having more caregivers to choose from helps ensure your happiness with the person you have.

7. Try to meet the caregiver before you start service. It's not always possible, but it's best to be able to select and/or change the person who is helping you.

8. Ask about the agency's 24 hour hotline practice. Many companies have an answering machine or service and the client may not get called back for hours or days if there is a problem or critical need.

9. Ask if the agency's caregiver is an employee or an independent contractor. Do you pay the agency or the individual caregiver? Contractors might not be covered by State licensing requirements, or liability insurance, worker's comp insurance, training programs, etc.

10. If you are thinking about using an individual contractor, make sure you personally do criminal and work background checks. Check your personal insurance coverage to ensure that accidents to you, your property, or the caregiver are covered. The individual that doesn't have liability insurance might now also be regulated by state agencies. Also, if that person can't show up, you don't have a backup. Remember, individual contractors mean the hiring person might need to file a 1099 at year end for that person.

Check references and make sure the company runs criminal background checks on all employees. Kidder said work background checks are as important as criminal checks.

"The past is an indicator of the future," he said.

Wendy Holt needed care for her own father, who has Alzheimer's and wants to live in his own home. Finding the right agency took some time.

"It's almost a little bit like a dating service," she said. "You've got to kind of match the personalities because there are some people that are incompetent and just don't get along personality wise."

Her father, Tom Johnson, has been with the same caregiver for four years. He calls her his "fifth daughter." She does everything from laundry and cooking to arts and errands. She helps with his daily needs his grown children cannot provide every hour of the week.

"I would hate to think what would happen if I weren't here," said Leslie Johns, his caregiver. "He wouldn't take his medication; he wouldn't eat right. Certainly he wouldn't get any exercise. So, I'm much needed."