Written By: Molly Kavanaugh
When my father-in-law, Carl, returned to his Port Clinton home after his third stroke, he needed help with everyday chores such as cooking and cleaning.
After several calls to local home care agencies, the family found one that fit the bill. Carl and one of the aides really gelled, and she became his primary caregiver.
This arrangement kept my father-in-law happy and in his beloved home for the last year of life.
The good news for older adults and families is that there are thousands of agencies that offer home health – which includes medical services like nursing and therapy (typically covered by Medicare) and home care, which is assistance with tasks like dressing, meal preparation and housekeeping, as well as companionship (these services are not covered by Medicare). But the selection can be overwhelming, and quality can vary greatly.
Where to Start
As with any important purchase, it is always a good idea to talk with family, friends, neighbors, your physician, and local area agency on aging to learn more about the home health and home care agencies in your community, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging, which offers a list of helpful questions to find quality care.
Especially important are questions about employee screening and training and whether employees are bonded. Most states require that home health and home care agencies perform criminal background checks on their workers and carefully screen job applicants for these positions, but regulations vary by state. Even if your state does not require background checks, ask when you interview agencies if they do this as a routine practice.
Before contacting a home health and home care agency, you may want to call your local area agency on aging or department of public health to learn what laws apply in your state.
Interview several agencies and ask for literature explaining their services and fees so you can review and discuss with family and friends.
No matter how sold you are, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice recommends asking for a list of references, such as doctors, discharge planners, patients or their family members, and community leaders who are familiar with the provider's quality of service.
Various Accreditations to Review
You can compare Medicare-certified home health agencies by visiting the government site. In addition to listing services, the guide also includes patient care quality scores and patient survey results.
One of the leading accrediting bodies for home health agencies is the Community Health Accreditation Partner. CHAP currently accredits more Medicare-certified home health providers than any other accrediting body recognized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies.
To find a provider, visit CHAP’s list of accredited home health agencies. You can search by name or location.
What is a Care Plan?
Once you have selected an agency, a coordinator will work with you and your doctor to create a plan of care. The agency must give you or arrange for all the medical care listed in your plan of care, including services and medical supplies. Your plan of care should be reviewed as often as necessary, but at least once every 60 days for medical care. Reviews may be less frequent for personal care.
If you need personal care, such as cooking, cleaning, errands and other chores, you may need to “try out” a few aides to find the right one for you. Also, ask what the agency’s minimum hours per visit is to see if it will fit your needs.
My father-in-law had several aides in the beginning, and then really hit it off with one woman in particular. He asked if they would send her most of the time, and they agreed. He needed daily visits, and with a 3-hour minimum was able to have her cook, clean up afterwards and do light housekeeping. An added bonus, the two of them became friends.
Written By: Molly Kavanaugh