In Home Senior Care Secret #1
I called my mom to check in. She was 79 and had fallen and broken her shoulder on the same day my dad was having quadruple by-pass surgery. My dad was in the hospital recovering and my mom needed help at home for more hours a day than my siblings and I could muster, so we had arranged for in home senior care with a local provider.
"I fired her," my mom declared.
"Wow. That was quick! Didn't she just get there a couple hours ago?"
"What happened Ma?" I asked.
"She didn't listen to me. I sent her to the post office to mail a package and then get a sandwich for me at the store next door. She didn't listen to my directions and got lost."
"But we all get lost now and then Mom, what makes you think she didn't listen to you?"
"I could tell, and she admitted it. She never wrote the directions down even though I repeated them twice, and she later admitted that she never listens to directions--she only uses her GPS. Her GPS took her to the wrong post office. I waited 2 hours for her to get back with my sandwich--and it was the wrong sandwich, too."
"I understand, Mom, that must have been frustrating," I empathized.
“I am in a lot of pain, your dad is in the hospital, I can’t do anything. I can’t even get myself dressed. And I told the service up front that I wanted a senior. I want someone who understands what I am going through and will listen to me. They didn’t send a senior—they sent a 45 year old. The post office is just two miles from here, and she decided to listen to her GPS instead of me. Technology comes between people sometimes with the young people. Whatever happened to simple respect and pen and paper? So, I fired her, because she is young and self-involved.”
In Home Senior Care Secret #1. Only a Senior Understands Another Senior.
In Home Senior Care Secret #2
Surprisingly my mom gave the service another chance and let them send over someone else the next day. This time she got what she wanted—a grey haired woman, Cecilia, in her 70's who loves to cook and happy to do anything my mom wanted. A real love—she was empathetic and glad to be busy getting everything done around the house. She paid all the bills that were coming due, did laundry, went to the grocery store, cooked dinner, and many other things. All with a smile.
When my mom’s first bill from the senior care agency came in, she had a very hard time understanding it. She was frustrated and angry by the time I got there. I went over the bill with her. It was confusing because of the additional charges for transportation when Cecilia did errands. Because of the confusion my mom thought they had charged her double for transportation. I convinced her they were not. “Well, still, I’m 79 years old, it shouldn’t be confusing.”
There were other problems, though. There was supposed to be a price break at 5+ hours of service. My mom had scheduled each day at 5 hours to take advantage of the price break. But, every day, my mom, being a nice old woman, let Cecilia go home a little early to be kind to her. Cecilia, being an equally nice old woman, and being ethical, put down the exact time she left. Since the time on site was less than 5 hours, the computer system charged my mom at the higher hourly rate!
Then, “to take the cake,” as my mom put it, they charged her for an hour of the two hours for the first woman “who was young and self-involved.” The company had written a note saying they were giving her a break by charging her for only one of the two hours. My mom was really angry. “This is why I don’t like hiring people to do things for us—they take advantage of people. This is wrong. They shouldn’t have charged me anything—they have no idea how upsetting it was for me to be stranded alone at home, hungry, in pain, missing my husband, and completely helpless.”
I have to add, it was really sad for me, too. My siblings and I had finally felt some relief, believing we had left my mom in good care. My mom was never a helpless woman, but she is not the person she used to be. It broke my heart to hear her talk about that day.
In Home Senior Care Secret #2. Look for a company with simple flat hourly rates. The best senior care companies will make it simple, and will always credit you (indeed over credit you!) for problems or frustrations.
In Home Senior Care Secret #3
Speaking of pricing, one thing we learned is that the pricing for in home senior care is highly competitive. My sister did all the calling and comparing. And she found that there was almost no difference in pricing—from $25-$27/hour. The industry is tight and everyone knows each other's prices. Some companies want to give you a more complicated rate schedule, charge for mileage, etc. As we said in Secret #2, go with a company with a simple pricing structure—easier to understand and trust. Moreover, don’t spend a lot of time shopping prices. There isn't much to gain, and there is something far more important to shop for. You might save a few dollars a week, but your objective is to find a loving friend and helper to your parent. If you concentrate on price, you might miss Secret #4.
In Home Senior Care Secret #3. Don’t spend a lot of time shopping prices—you won’t find much difference in prices. Spend your time on Secret #4.
In Home Senior Care Secret #4
Back to my mom’s story…
After the billing debacle, she declared she was going to fire the service altogether. I said, “Well mom, you met the owner of the business right? Don’t you think you could call her and ask for an adjustment of the bill?”
“No, I am not going to do that.”
“Why not, mom?”
“Because you have no idea how she talked to me when I called about the first problem. She wasn’t really rude, but I could tell she just didn’t care. I am not calling her again.”
“Would you want me or Jane (my sister) to call her for you?”
“No, I am not going to do anything. I will pay the bill and be done with them.”
“But when the owner came in the very first time, I thought you and Jane liked her. Is that right?”
“No, not really. She was very business-like and professional, which was fine. But I couldn’t say I liked her. Not at all. I didn’t dislike her, either. But there was nothing there to like. She just came in and told us what she could offer and we signed the contract. I needed help and I needed it soon. And besides, she wasn’t going to be the one to care for me—I didn’t really need to like her, did I?“
I realized that was where we had made our mistake. I remember my sister had said the same thing about the owner. Fine. Professional. Nothing to dislike. But nothing to like either.
In Home Senior Care Secret #4. Always meet the owner. And choose to go with the owner you like. Managers hire others who are like themselves. It’s human nature. Don’t think it doesn’t matter because the owner is not doing the caregiving. It matters. The owner is going to send someone like themselves. And even if you eventually find a good caregiver through a mediocre owner, you have to work with the owner on every other topic. Spend your time shopping owner’s hearts. Find the right owner’s heart, and you have struck gold.
In Home Senior Care Secret #5
Lastly, know your state’s regulations well enough to know if the company you are hiring is in compliance and/or is disingenuously puffing themselves up about how great they are. We are in the state of New Hampshire so it is the only state I can talk about with confidence, but this is good advice even if you are in another state.
In NH all Home Care Service Provider Agencies are required to:
- Be licensed with the Department of Health and Human Services. No license—walk away.
- Hire all caregivers as employees, or use independent contractors that are individually licensed with the state. Obviously, since almost no individual is going to attempt to be licensed by themselves, every company in NH must hire the caregiver as an employee. If you are interviewing a company and they make a big deal about their caregivers being employees and not independent contractors, realize that they have to, and everyone else does too.
- Train all senior care personal care providers with a minimum of 8 hours of training on a long list of topics. And frankly, it is really hard to get the list completed in just 8 hours. So, if you hear a company tooting their horn about all the hours of training they are doing, realize that everyone else has to as well in order to pass and maintain the strict licensing requirements.
In Home Senior Care Secret #5. Don’t be easily impressed by a company’s claims about their training, employees vs. independent contractors, or other state requirements. NH is very strict and tightly controlled (a great thing for the consumer) and they are just telling you what they had to do to be licensed. Go back to Secret #4 and spend your time interviewing owners. Great owners hire great people.