Who’s Watching Your Mom?

Written by Lauren Langevin, Co-Owner, Home Instead Senior Care, North Dartmouth, MA

Would you leave a complete stranger alone in your home when you are not there? Of course not. Yet every day, family members allow complete strangers unsupervised access into their parents’ homes to provide in-home care services to their parents.

With the high, and increasing cost of assisted living and nursing home care for seniors, more families are turning to in-home care services to allow their parents to remain in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of their own home, instead of moving into a facility.  

In-home caregivers provide personal care and companionship to help seniors age comfortably in their own homes. But, before you allow just anyone into your parents’ home to help care for them, it’s critical to know who you are letting in. Without rigorous recruiting processes, thorough background checks, and supervision of caregivers, seniors are vulnerable to theft and abuse by those trusted to care for them. 

There are caring, compassionate, and trustworthy agencies and caregivers who truly want to provide the best care for seniors. However, when the agency’s recruiting process and caregiver supervision are not properly managed, the peace of mind you were looking for can turn into a nightmare. This was my nightmare.

My mother was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia and was unable to remain alone in her home. My father’s reaction was “I don’t care what we have to do, but she’s not moving into a nursing home.”  That left me scrambling to find 24-hour caregiving services for my mother. Like most people, parent care was not something that I was prepared for. And like most people facing a similar situation, my mother’s need was event-driven. I was now in crisis-mode desperately looking for help. My life was already busy with a young child, managing a home and, along with my husband, working full time. My father, at 90-years old and was still working every day at his accounting firm, so responsibility for my mother rested on my shoulders

After searching the internet for caregiver agencies and making some inquiries, someone told me about a local in-home care agency. I called them, told them what I needed, and they came to my parents house to sign the contract. A few days later a complete stranger knocked on my mother’s front door and said that the agency had sent her.

It was left to me to go over my mother’s condition with the caregiver and tell her what needed to be done. The next day, I was at my parents’ home checking on my mother when the caregiver arrived, only to find that it was a different caregiver and I had to go through the whole orientation process…again. The agency never notified me that they would be sending a new caregiver.

Unhappy with this situation, I called the agency and told them we needed more consistency because I couldn’t guarantee that I could be there every time a new caregiver showed up. The agency asked for time to find someone, and sent someone to knock on my parents’ door a few days later. Once again, I had to do the introduction and familiarize another caregiver with my mother’s care plan.

This caregiver seemed wonderful, and was attentive and excited as I showed her around the house and talked her through how to work with my mother. She was eager to learn all about my mother and determine how she could best help our family, and talked about all the things she would do to help out such as housekeeping (which I had been doing), laundry, and cooking for my parents.

And yes, she helped out…or should I say she helped herself.

Once she had us convinced that she was our “Mary Poppins”, ready and willing to take care of my parents, we let our guard down.  That’s when my Dad would come home from work and notice things on his bureau had been moved.  Then, he noticed items around the house and money began to disappear.

There were not a lot of valuables lying around. It’s always a good idea to put things away when people are coming in and out of your house, however being raised during the Depression Era my Dad would keep money put away (not somewhere obvious) throughout the house.

One day he was looking for some paperwork and noticed that one of the envelopes was missing. He was puzzled, but he did not immediately conclude that the caregiver took the money. She was so friendly and caring.  As a senior, he thought perhaps he had forgotten where he put it, but shortly after, the same thing happened again. My mother was wheelchair bound and the caregiver had complete access to the house, out of my mother’s view.

One evening my Dad came home from work and to satisfy his curiosity he looked in a drawer where he had hidden an envelope of money. This envelope was wrapped in a towel, buried under a stack of shirts, and in the bottom of a drawer in a spare room that the caregiver had no need to enter. He was sure the envelope would be there, but it wasn’t. Then he looked in another hiding place and that envelope was also gone.

My Dad called me very upset. I immediately called the agency and reported the stolen money and stated that the caregiver was not allowed back in the house. We filed a claim with the agency to be reimbursed for the stolen money. While we were waiting for the settlement, the agency called and said that the caregiver felt bad and “even though she didn’t take the money she would pay it back because she liked working at my Parents”. We couldn’t believe that the agency would ask us to put someone back in the house who so brazenly stole from my family.

After that experience we became much more diligent about hiring a new caregiver. We interviewed several agencies and made sure to ask about the extent of their caregiver hiring process. We still didn’t know enough to ask about training and caregiver management (so this still fell upon me), but at least we found an agency that was committed to providing high-quality and high-integrity caregivers. 

Once my parents passed, my husband – who had his own negative experiences with his parents in assisted living and nursing homes for 14 years – and I sat down and talked about the care our parents received and ways we could help make it easier on families who want and need support to keep their loved ones safe at home. We started making a list of the things we didn’t know about, or think to ask when we were looking for in-home care and the types of support we didn’t receive, but wished we had.

This list included: Asking about the extent of the agency’s hiring process, including comprehensive background checks; someone to introduce a caregiver to my mother – not just a random person knocking on the door saying “the agency sent me”; someone who met my mother before the caregiver was introduced, to provide an assessment and care plan, and explained the care plan to the caregiver; someone to check in periodically to make sure the assessment was up to date; someone who was responsible for actively managing the caregivers to make sure that they were providing the senior with the best quality of care.

As part of our promise to ensure seniors get the best care possible so that they can live safely and comfortably in their own homes, and to provide the peace of mind and support for families to make their lives a little less stressful, we prepared a list of Ten Considerations that families should ask about when they are looking for reliable in-home care services for their seniors.

10 Considerations When Choosing In-Home Senior Care Services

1. Caregiver Background Checks 

Caregivers are unsupervised strangers in your parents’ homes. Ask how extensive the background checks are that the agency conducts on their caregivers.

2. Caregiver Training

Does the agency provide caregiver training before they provide services to your family member? Just because someone says they’ve done it before doesn’t mean that they have received proper training.

3. Client Care Management/Caregiver Supervision

Does the agency oversee their caregiver’s work performance in your family’s home on a consistent basis? Do they meet regularly with the caregivers and family members to ensure optimal quality of care?

4. Caregiver the Family and the Senior

Every family has unique in-home requirements. How does the agency ensure that every caregiver is familiar and trained with your family’s care requirements? The agency should have a Client Care Manager who personally introduces each new caregiver to your family and to your parent before they begin working in your home.

5. Caregiver Clock-in/Clock-out Verification

How does the agency monitor and ensure that caregivers arrive at their shift on time and that they do not leave before their scheduled shift is completed?

6. Reliable Service

Families expect caregivers to show up on-time, every time for their scheduled shift. When a caregiver is unable to go to a scheduled shift, does the agency ensure a replacement caregiver fills
he shift?

7. 24-hour Availability

Does the agency have a dedicated employee on-call 24-hours, 7 days per week (not just a voicemail that they will call you back) to respond to your requirements? How does the family communicate with the agency regarding changes in schedule, emergency situations, and
 additional needs?

8. Accommodates Your Schedule

 How does the agency accommodate your unique hours and schedule?

9. Caregivers Employees 

Are the caregivers company employees or per diem workers? Does the agency pay proper wages, collect and pay employment taxes, and have Worker’s Compensation insurance? Are the caregivers insured and bonded? Ask the agency for proof of business insurance.

10. Agency Reputation

What is the reputation of the senior care agency you are considering? Have they won awards for providing excellent service?  Are they well respected in the community?

Staying in the comfort of their own homes is definitely the preferred option for seniors. In-home care can provide the necessary emotional and physical support that seniors need to stay engaged in their communities. By supplementing the caregiving responsibility of family members, in-home care helps families balance work, home, and social lives while still enjoying the company of their loved ones.  

Over 90% of seniors want to stay at home as long as possible. It’s worth the effort to make sure that your caregivers and the agency they work for are 100% committed to ensuring that seniors receive the best care possible. n

For more information on what to look for in quality in-home senior care, call Home Instead Senior Care at 508-984-7900 (SouthCoast) or 508-778-8613 (Cape Cod.)