By Jane Farrell
Of all the tasks involved in caregiving, there’s probably none more frightening than picking a home health care assistant for your loved one. And there’s good reason for that. The process involves finances, insurance, talks that may be difficult – and most of all, the worry that the person you’re hiring might not be the best person to care for the patient.
But you can make the choice a lot easier if you’re armed with the right information and know how to use it. Crystal Fornes, NP, RN, head of CarePlanner Services for Careplanners, offers several suggestions:
Don’t wait until the last minute to start planning for long-term care. As your loved one grows older, it’s likelier that he or she will suffer a debilitating or chronic disease and need in-home care. It’s best not to wait until that day arrives and you’re faced with an immediate crisis. “Bring in health care early,” Fornes says. “Start out looking at options and resources.” But don’t present any plan to your loved one as if it’s a done deal. You don’t want to frighten them or make them feel that the situation is out of control. “Start gradually,” Fornes advises. It’s possible to get long-term care insurance, but the younger a person applies the greater your chances are of being accepted. (If your loved one is in the hospital very suddenly, ask to see the facility’s social worker so you can get some advice and referrals before the patient comes home.)
Know the differences between the types of home health care assistants. Fornes divides the groups into “unlicensed and licensed.” An unlicensed aide, she says, helps with daily domestic talks like laundry, housekeeping and cooking. A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) monitors the patient’s vital signs and any equipment used, such as a catheter, and helps with personal tasks like bathing. A Registered Nurse (RN), monitors the patient’s overall care plan, gives injections and is in contact with the patient’s physician.
Know the questions you need to ask the agency who is sending you the care worker. “Always vet the agency,” Fornes says. “Make sure they are licensed, bonded and have insurance.” They also must do background checks on their employees. (Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and neighbors are valuable as well. ) Other questions to ask the agency include what their confidentiality policy is; how they bill; and whether they are inspected regularly by outside agencies like the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Their workers should also keep records of their visits to a patient’s home.
Don’t feel that you have to hire the first home care assistant you interview. “Know that you can change [your choice of health-care worker],” Fornes said. “It is one hundred percent your right. You want everyone to be comfortable. It’s a very intimate relationship.” If you don’t like the first assistant you interview, she says, ask the agency to send another person for you to talk with. Beyond that, it’s probably a good idea to choose another agency altogether.
Drop in unexpectedly after you’ve hired the assistant. Keep visiting the patient, but don’t do so at predictable times. Be on the lookout for signs of bad care like weight loss, a lack of cleanliness. And, Fornes emphasizes, “ask the patient how she’s doing
Keep your home health care worker up to speed on emergency procedures. That means giving them numbers for nurses and doctors as well as documents that show the medicines the patient is taking and any allergies or medical conditions.
To start you off, Fornes suggests checking out the free online tools at www.careplanners.com so you can create a profile not only for your loved ones, but also for yourself.