Who's Watching Your Mom?
Would you leave a stranger alone in your home when you're not there? Of course not. Yet, everyday family members allow strangers unsupervised access into their parents' homes to provide in-home care services to their parents.
More and more seniors want to stay at home as they age. According to AARP, almost 80% of those people 50 years and older want to remain in their homes or their communities. Experienced and professional in-home care services are available to make their wishes a reality and keep seniors safe and comfortable in their own homes.
As the nursing homes continue to close and the already-high cost of assisted living residences continues to increase, 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.
In-home caregivers provide personal care, companionship, and emotional support 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 a rigorous recruiting and vetting process, including extensive background checks, and supervision of caregivers, seniors can be left vulnerable to theft and abuse by those they trust to care for them.
It's important to remember that not all in-home care is created equal.
If you a hire someone privately, from an ad or recommendation, are you doing the proper screening? If you hire a caregiver through an agency, is the agency doing a thorough background check? Is the agency properly paying their employees? If not, you could be liable for the amount caregivers are underpaid. Are the caregivers insured and bonded? I've heard it before, "I trust my caregiver." That's great. But as an employee in your household they need to have their own liability insurance or be covered by the agency. If an accident happens, your homeowner's insurance will not cover it.
There are caring, compassionate, and trustworthy caregivers who truly want to provide the best care for seniors. However, when the recruiting process, whether on your own or through an agency, and caregiver supervision are not properly managed, the peace of mind and care for your loved ones 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 adult children caring for an aging parent was not something I was prepared for. And like most people facing similar situations, 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 working full-time. My 90-year-old father was still working everyday at his accounting firm, so the responsibility to care for, and find care for, my mother rested on my shoulders.
After searching the internet for caregiver agencies and making some inquiries to acquaintances, I learned about a local in-home care agency. I called them, told them what I needed, and they came to my parents' house to sign a contract. They did not do an assessment of my mother's condition. They did not develop a care plan. They did not take the time to learn about where things were in the house and how my mother liked things so they could train the caregiver. And, I did not know enough about what to expect to ask the very important questions including: what is your vetting process? Do you supervise your caregivers? Do you train your caregivers? When caregivers first come to my parents' home, do you come with them to introduce them to my mother and explain the care plan? What happens if a caregiver calls out sick?
I was told that a caregiver would be available in a few days. A few days later, at the specified time, I had to be at my parents' home to let the caregiver in. A stranger knocked on my mother's door and said the agency sent her. She had nothing to identify her – no id badge or shirt with the company logo. When she entered the house, she stood in the kitchen while I told her what my mother needed and explained where to find things in the house.
The next day I went to check on my mother, a different caregiver had arrived. She had no idea what to do so I had to go through the entire introduction and orientation again. The agency never notified me that they were sending a new caregiver and did not come with the caregiver to provide an introduction.
Over the next few weeks, I would stop in to visit my mother on my way home from work. One day the caregiver was sleeping on the couch in the living room while my mother sat in a wheel chair in the family room at 3:00 in the afternoon. Another day the caregiver was outside smoking while my mother sat alone inside.
Unhappy with this situation, I contacted the agency and told them I needed someone I could rely on because I couldn't be there every time a new caregiver showed up, or to manage the caregivers. I needed someone I could depend on to provide care for my mother. The agency asked for time to find another caregiver, and a few days later a new person showed up. I had to do the orientation all over again.
At first, this caregiver seemed wonderful. She was attentive and excited as I showed her around the house. She was anxious to learn about my mother and determine ways she could best support our family. We talked about all the things she could do including personal care, providing companionship and helping with light housekeeping.
And yes, she helped out…or should I say she helped herself.
Once she convinced us 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 began to disappear.
There were not a lot of valuables lying around the house. (It's always a good idea to put things away when people come in and out of your house) however, being raised during the Depression, my dad did like to keep some cash hidden in the house.
One day he was looking for some paperwork and noticed that one of the envelopes with money 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 made a mistake and maybe moved the envelope. But shortly after, the same thing happened again. Another envelope of money, that was well hidden, was missing.
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 with some money. This envelope was wrapped in a towel and buried under a stack of shirts in a bottom drawer in a spare room that the caregiver had no reason to enter. He was sure (or at least hoping) the envelope would be there, but it wasn't.
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. The agency then called us and said the caregiver felt bad about the stolen money and "even though she said she didn't take it she wants to pay it back and come back to work for you." We couldn't believe the agency would ask us to take back someone who so brazenly stole from my family.
After that experience, we had learned about what we needed to do to ensure that we hired a trustworthy and reliable caregiver. We then interviewed several agencies and made sure to ask questions about the caregiver hiring and vetting process. We still didn't know enough to ask about training and caregiver management, so the "orientation process" was still my responsibility, but at least we found an agency that was committed to extensively vetting their employees and providing high-quality and trustworthy caregivers.
Once my parents passed, my husband – who had his own negative experiences managing his parents' care in assisted living and nursing home facilities for over 14 years – and I sat down and talked about the care our parents' received and ways would could help make it easier for families who want to keep their senior loved ones at home. We made a list of the questions we didn't know enough to ask when we were looking for in-home care and the types of support we didn't receive, but wish we had.
This list included: