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Refining the Short List of Elder Care Options

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Check Licensure.

elderly woman on computerAfter identifying potential care facilities, the next step is to screen them to see that they fit the desired requirements. The screening process might take place in several passes. On the first pass, it will be important to verify that all care facilities, agencies or home-care workers are licensed (if they are supposed to be licensed), and otherwise who they say they are. A simple call to the state agency responsible for licensing care facilities (or a visit to the licensure agency's website) can separate who is licensed from who is not, and also may yield information about whether recent complaints have been made against the facility or agency in question. Asking about complaints is important because it may help identify facilities that should be excluded from further consideration because of significant problems but which are still licensed, pending state review of those problems. If the family is not concerned about licensure or if the facility or agency under consideration is not required by the state to obtain a license, this step may be skipped.

Conduct Interviews and Refine the Short List.

Having confirmed that all remaining candidate facilities are licensed, the next step is to call each facility and do a telephone interview. The family should list key questions they want answered (regarding types of services offered, availability of accommodations, cost, etc.) and reference this list during their call so as to make sure all questions get answered. A sample interview list is attached to this document as Appendix B.

It is a good idea for the person making these calls to take notes after each call is completed so as to record the information learned and the feelings that each call produced. For example, writing down whether a facility's contact person was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable helps in forming an opinion about the facility, as does other customer service behaviors that can be recorded such as how long callers are kept on hold, and how fully questions are answered. This record of first impressions helps families and the elder learn which facilities they want to pursue and which they can safely disregard. Facilities that created a good impression but which are too costly to consider further may also be crossed off the list at this point in time.

It is harder to evaluate the quality of freelance home care workers than it is to evaluate the quality of agencies who offer the services of home care workers. For this reason, it often makes sense to contract with an agency who can offer a prescreened short list of quality candidates matching family needs. Families using a home health worker search agency can expect to fill out numerous forms detailing their elder's care needs and expectations, as well as a profile about the elder and possibly the family. Family members can conduct interviews from the agency short list, confident that the agency has already conducted a criminal background and reference check on the candidates. The downside of using an agency is that they charge high fees for their brokerage services, and also mandate the weekly salary and benefits that will be paid to hired workers. The agency route is simply not appropriate or feasible for all families.

Those hiring independent home health workers on their own without an agency can begin the search process by posting a position notice in local newspapers, on community bulletin boards and on websites for local community institutions such as colleges and universities, churches, and community centers. Craigslist.com is also likely to be a reasonable and free place to post a listing. Each candidate who responds to the listing should be personally interviewed and screened, and candidate's references should be checked. A final candidate list should be composed only of candidates whose references all check out properly, and who have no criminal or sex offender background. Agencies that can produce criminal background check reports for short-listed candidates may be found online by searching for the phrase "criminal background check".