Looking for home help for a loved one? A new study suggests some ways to make a better choice.

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Make sure you get the best home care for seniors by asking smart questions about caregivers and home health care agencies. Visiting Angels suggests 15 questions to ask before hiring a home health care provider.

Richard Bitner: “Bringing someone into your home to care for a loved one is very personal... It’s so important to ask questions."

Families looking for caregivers to provide help at home for their loved ones got a scare recently with a study published in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study, conducted by Northwestern University, examined the hiring and screening practices of 180 responding homecare agencies, and concluded that families need to be cautious that the agency is not misrepresenting their caregivers’ skills and their agencies’ training and supervision.

The reality is that not every homecare agency offers the help a family may need. Some agencies may not provide adequate screening or training and finding the right fit between the caregiver and the client, and finding an agency that can truly provide the care that’s needed, can be difficult. The situation is often made even more challenging because it may be an unplanned need, making it both more important and harder to be selective in evaluating an agency and an individual caregiver.

To make sure that families get qualified help, the study suggested ten questions to ask. Visiting Angels, one of the nation’s leading non-medical home health care franchisors, suggests that families ask not just those questions but a few more to ensure the right fit:

15 questions to help find the right home care agency and caregiver

1.    How does your agency recruit caregivers, and what are the hiring requirements? Visiting Angels, for example, hires people with experience in caregiving, and the caregivers typically have a strong employment history in caring for seniors.

2.    What types of screening and background checks are performed on caregivers before they are hired? Make sure that the agency has checked the caregivers’ background through legitimate records databases, not through an unverifiable agency (such as the “National Caregiver Background Check” cited in the Northwestern study).

3.    Is the agency bonded and insured, and licensed if that is required (licensing regulations can vary, but you want an agency that meets all of your state and local requirements)? Franchise agencies like Visiting Angels are required to meet all bonding, insurance and licensing requirements.

4.    What kind of health-related training, if any, do caregivers have?

5.    Does the agency provide specialized and continuing education for caregivers?

6.    How are training programs developed? Reputable agencies like Visiting Angels often provide training that has been developed with nationally recognized experts, such as their Dementia Care Professionals of America (DCPA) training, which is an Alzheimer’s Foundation of America sponsored formal training and qualification program for caregivers. In addition, some agencies may have advanced training programs available that they have developed on their own, such as Visiting Angel’s Palliative Care Training Program which is being introduced this year for franchise owners and caregivers.

7.    What competencies will the caregiver have (e.g., lifting and transfers, homemaking skills, personal care skills including bathing, dressing and toileting, training in behavioral management, cognitive support)? Not every situation will require a caregiver with all of these skills, but it is important to know what a caregiver is able to do.

8.    How does the agency assess what the caregiver is capable of doing?

9.    What is the policy on providing a substitute caregiver in the event a regular caregiver cannot provide the contracted services?

10.    If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, can he or she be replaced “without cause”?

11.    Does the agency provide a supervisor to evaluate the quality of home care on a regular basis? How frequently? Does supervision occur over the telephone, through progress reports, or in person at the home of the older adult? Visiting Angels recommends a combination of monitoring, such as telephone and in-home visits, to ensure the best level of care.

12.    How long has the agency been in business? A national franchise should have a high level of agencies that have a long track record – at Visiting Angels 60% of all franchises have been in business five or more years, which is more than 10% higher than the national average.

13.    How does the agency stay abreast of new techniques and research in home care? Franchise agencies usually have a strong network of ongoing skills training to draw on, but every agency should be taking part in local network and education opportunities to ensure they are providing the most current care modalities.

14.    What hours can the caregivers work? When are they available? It is important to be able to schedule help when you need it, and a good agency will work on your schedule to provide care.

15.    Can the family meet the caregiver before the person starts work? Inviting someone into your home to provide care can be scary. Being able to meet, and approve, the proposed caregiver before hiring can be very important, and it’s one of the things a good agency like Visiting Angels will offer.

As Richard Bitner of Visiting Angels national headquarters explains, “bringing someone into your home is very personal. Too often families don’t know what questions to ask, so they choose an agency that may not be the right fit. It’s so important to ask questions and to be confident that the agency you choose can stand by you when you need them. We hope these questions help families feel more confident in their choices.”

To find out more about how home care can help, explore the Visiting Angels website at http://www.visitingangels.com/ or call them at 800-365-4189 to locate an agency near you.


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