One of my best friends, Becky, is going through a difficult time of life. Her husband’s behavior is becoming increasingly erratic as his dementia worsens, and she is starting to realize that she can’t do it alone. Becky feels overwhelmed as she battles the symptoms of depression and anxiety so common to women who care for a disabled spouse.
Becky is finally starting to accept that she needs help from an in-home caregiver, so I put together a list of specific questions for her to ask. Whether your loved one needs home health services with nursing care or just help with activities of daily living through home care, here are the three most important questions to ask a potential caregiver.
1. What are your qualifications?
Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials and prior experience. In fact, this is absolutely essential. Some caregivers are hired by agencies at minimum wage with no experience caring for the elderly, while others have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Tamar Shovali, assistant professor of human development at Eckerd College and a caregiving specialist, states you should “make sure that the agency has hired the professional caregiver themselves, has conducted background checks, verified education and prior in-home care experience, and carries the proper insurance for workers' compensation claims.”
Ask for a formal resume with references – then call those references. You can learn a lot from others’ experiences.
2. What is your star rating?
As the government has increased its regulation of the senior care industry, Medicare has implemented the five-star system for rating home health organizations. First published July 2015, companies are rated on timely initiation of care, drug education, flu immunization, improvement in ambulation, improvement in bed transferring, improvement in bathing, improvement in pain, improvement in shortness of breath, and acute care hospitalization.
You can check the star rating by going to Home Health Compare and searching for a company by city or zip code. Companies with five-star ratings have been thoroughly vetted and are more likely to provide high-quality care than those with lower ratings. Even four-star facilities are better than the national three-star or the California 3.5-star averages.
3. Why are you a caregiver?
This is perhaps the most important question to ask. A home care or home health organization may be ranked well, but you’ve got to make sure that the provider really enjoys the work. If your potential caregiver loves caring for people who are aging, sick or debilitated, then you’re more likely to have a positive experience. If he or she is there to get a paycheck and go home, then it’s probably not going to be a good fit.
The decision to hire a caregiver may be daunting, but asking the right questions can make the decision much easier. By asking a caregiver for qualifications, star ratings and reasons for working as a caregiver, you can avoid many of the pitfalls of hiring bad care.
Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about best practices in senior care.