I have to admit I thought hiring a caregiver for my Dad was no big deal. I’d managed hundreds of staff, run a household and hired all kinds of help over the years. I thought the hardest part was over when Dad agreed it was time for some help. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ll share my story and lessons so that hopefully you don’t have to learn the hard way.
Finding a Caregiver: Going Solo
As I mentioned, I’d hired a lot of people over the years and figured I could do my due diligence here. In talking to friends, they seemed to be of the opinion you could find a nice caregiver through referrals and save some money. It didn’t seem like there’d be any benefit to using an agency when they’d cost more. We got some referrals and interviewed a couple caregivers.
Despite having interviewed many people, I now realize I didn’t really know the questions to ask. We inquired about their experience. Not understanding the skills needed for caregiving, we couldn’t evaluate their competency. More importantly, we didn’t dig into the “soft skills”, like timeliness, communication style, and willingness to learn. I learned later that a caregiver needs both specific eldercare skills and more general household management skills. I missed little things like an inability to text. When she was running late or had small issues, this could’ve saved a lot of phone calls and time. The ability to work home appliances/electronics and deal with minor issues in the home was another thing I’d check.
At the time, however, we felt comfortable with the in-home caregiver we chose. She had a lot of experience so we felt she’d be ideal for the job.
We didn’t make any formal plan when we hired the caregiver, but agreed on days and general tasks. She’d worked as a home caregiver for over 20 years, so we felt comfortable with her expertise. However, without a plan, there was little coordination.
Soon after starting, the caregiver asked Dad to change her days so she could pick up her grandkids from school. So, I had to change my schedule to take Dad to doctors’ appointments we’d planned for those days. I also had to stop by and check his medications, so I had to ask my boss for some schedule changes myself. Additionally, we had a few days where she couldn’t make it at the last minute and I had to take a personal day. This is what I’d been trying to avoid by hiring the home caregiver, as I’d just started a new position.
Tasks and Feedback
Dad really liked his caregiver, but didn’t feel comfortable giving her feedback when she wasn’t doing things the way he preferred. At first, he didn’t even mention this to me. But then, over lunch one day, he made a few comments. So, I started coming over and going through some tasks with her.
For example, she cooked foods she preferred, even after we mentioned a few that Dad didn’t like. I suggested some meal options and even provided some recipes. But, she’d been helping people for 20 years and had decided she wasn’t going to change. This applied to many of the tasks I went over with her, so my coaching didn’t get very far.
On one visit, I found out she’d been taking Dad’s laundry home with her. She didn’t feel she needed to be at his house to do it, so she was leaving early and bringing it back the next time. It wasn’t necessarily a problem that she was doing the laundry elsewhere. However, the idea was to have her at Dad’s home for companionship and help.
Again, I was out to lunch with Dad when another issue came up. Dad often liked to “treat” me to lunch, but told me he didn’t have his credit card. I asked if he’d left it at home or misplaced it. He reluctantly admitted he’d given it to the caregiver. She’d asked to hold onto it because it made grocery shopping easier. We expected she and Dad to go to the store together. It was a nice opportunity for him to get out. He loved looking around and picking out fresh fruits and veggies. And, he could pay for the groceries. But, instead, she was going on her own (usually in the morning and then coming to his home later than planned) and using his credit card.
I checked the account right away. Fortunately, all the charges seemed legitimate. But, now I needed to monitor the account. I also noticed Dad’s grocery costs had increased significantly. The didn’t seem in line with the food she was cooking so it left me wondering. Most of all, I realized that the concerns were piling up and we couldn’t continue taking these risks. Additionally, the relief I’d hoped to gain by bringing in help was being consumed by worry and management tasks.
Lessons Learned and A Better Way
First of all, I would tell anyone that it isn’t worth saving a dollar or two per hour when it comes to your parent’s care. And, it turned out that we didn’t even have to pay much more with an agency. Actually, overall costs taking into account my time (and costs we might have incurred due to risks), ended up lower.
We found the home health agency EasyLiving through a recommendation, and the difference was night and day. Even though I knew how to hire and manage people, I’d never dealt with home care before. I somehow expected all the management tasks I’d have to do for employees to magically take care of themselves in this situation. I had become the “boss”, constantly managing issues, with little time to just be Dad’s daughter.
EasyLiving did a thorough assessment and matched us with a qualified caregiver, but also built a care plan from that. This outlined specific duties and goals for the caregiver. My Dad was a bit wary after his previous experience (it took some convincing for him to let me ask his old caregiver to leave). But, the supervisor came out to introduce the new caregiver and make him comfortable. They showed her around and discussed specifics of how he likes things done.
And, they checked in immediately to see how it was going. This time, Dad could comfortably share his feedback right away. The supervisor provided that feedback to the caregiver so Dad (or I) didn’t have to handle it. When an issue came up, I loved just calling the agency. They’d send out their trainer to coach the caregiver and show her how Dad wants it done. I didn’t have to take time out of my busy day to catch the caregiver when she was there. And, more importantly, I didn’t have to fill that awkward role of being the family member who is critiquing the caregiver.
The agency had specific guidelines set up so everything was very clear. They also carry liability and worker’s compensation insurance. They handle taxes, overtime and other employment issues. Now, we had all the paperwork we needed to deduct the services as medical expenses. This was a much better scenario than opening ourselves up to an audit for employing the caregiver privately.
Save Yourself Time and Stress
We made so much more work for ourselves by not doing things right the first time. I was just lucky Dad even agreed to try again. Most of all, we were fortunate things didn’t turn out worse. A few of my friends are dealing with major caregiver difficulties now.
Knowing EasyLiving handles things for us gives me peace of mind. I’m traveling a lot for work and they were able to adapt the care plan and schedule to provide more help. If you’re looking into hiring a home caregiver, I hope what I learned saves you some headaches.