10 Often Overlooked Things To Look for in an In-Home Care Agency

in-home care agency

When your senior parent starts needing more help than you can give, the road ahead can seem daunting. Bringing in a stranger to care for your loved one is hard enough as it is, but the work it takes to make sure this person is qualified and trustworthy can make the whole process downright overwhelming. That’s why many family decision-makers choose to use an in-home agency to provide care for their loved one.

Unlike hiring and managing a private caregiver yourself, using an agency can take much of the work out of your hands. In-home care agencies employ a number of caregivers, and they’ll assign one with the right experience to care for your parent. The agency takes care of the hiring, vetting, training, and management of the caregiver, as well as facilitates and covers costs for their benefits and insurance. In most cases, you can rest assured everything is above board and your parent will receive qualified care.

But as with anything – especially when it comes to your family –due diligence to make sure you’re working with a reliable organization is paramount. At the very minimum, there are a few things that are an absolute must when choosing an in-home care agency. They should be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau, they should be licensed, bonded, and insured, and they should have a website and social media pages that you can reference. You should also ask questions about how they vet their caregivers (background checks, references) and what kind of qualifications and training they receive.

If that all checks out, you’re off to a good start. But you shouldn’t stop there. The caregiver-care receiver relationship is an important one, and, like any other industry, there are good agencies and not-so-good agencies doing business in your community. Finding a truly excellent in-home care agency means you’ll have to dig a little deeper, but it can make all the difference in what kind of experience you and your senior parent will have. In this article, we’ll cover ten things to look for when selecting an in-home care agency to ensure you’re getting the best care possible

  1. Transparency

The last thing you want when you’re starting in-home care with an agency is to be hit with extra fees or be subject to policies and practices that you didn’t know about. Not all agencies publish their prices online, but they should provide them when you ask without having you go through a long sales pitch.

Beyond the costs, what will the day-to-day care look like? Is it crystal clear what duties the caregiver will perform and which ones they won’t? You’ll also want to ask what kind of commitment they expect and how changes to service will be handled. Most good in-home care agencies will be completely upfront about how they operate, and if they have all of this clearly outlined on their website, even better!

(For an example, check out our “How It Works” section!)

  1. Flexibility

Things can change quickly when you’re caregiving for an aging or elderly parent. Emergencies happen, you may need more or less care than you thought, or maybe the caregiver you’ve been assigned isn’t working out for some reason. Perhaps one of the more important features to seek out in the in-home care agency you choose is the ability to react and adapt quickly to changing situations with as little stress for you as possible.

The ability to be flexible and move quickly can spring from being small and nimble or being in business a long time and having great systems in place. But flexibility is really an outward reflection of the company’s values and beliefs. Many in-home care agencies will be somewhat flexible, but really good ones will go above and beyond to work with you without it costing you an arm and a leg.

  1. Longevity and involvement in the community

New businesses can be great, but typically, when it comes to the care of your aging parent, experience in the in-home care industry is the way to go. When vetting agencies, ask how long each has been in business and what background/experience the owners have. One other factor to consider when choosing an in-home care agency is whether it’s a franchise or a family business. There can be advantages to going with a franchise (like established systems) but there can also be drawbacks if the owner of the business has to report to a corporation somewhere else.

It’s also a good sign if the in-home care agency is invested in your community, such as participating in the chamber of commerce and other local organizations, or giving back through grants, sponsorships, or donations. Mostly you want to be assured they aren’t going anywhere and that your aging parent will have consistency. Having some longevity and being involved in the community isn’t a guarantee, but it can be a good indicator.

in-home care sonoma county
(We’re family-owned and have been serving the community for 18 years!)
  1. Great communication

When you are entrusting your loved one’s care to someone else, responsiveness and open communication are critical. You want to be able to trust you’re receiving all the information you need in a timely manner and that you can reach the agency whenever the need arises. It starts with the first person you talk to – do they pick up the phone or are you sent to voicemail? When you speak to them, do they genuinely hear you out with compassion and patience? That’s an indicator of how your care might go.

Here are some other factors to consider:

  • What hours are they available?
  • Can you easily reach someone in case of an emergency?
  • What is their process for updating you on your parent’s care?
  • What input will you have?
  1. A holistic, “care team” approach

A good in-home care agency doesn’t just do the bare minimum for their clients, they look to be an active member of your care team. This means they’ll involve you in the process and work with other parties involved, like medical staff or other services you’re utilizing.

This is especially important for hospice care. If you’re utilizing in-home care services to supplement hospice, it’s crucial that your caregiver be able to work with the medical staff and address the needs of the entire family. And when it comes to caring for the entire family, that means you too! A good in-home care agency will aim to make your family caregiver duties less stressful, listening and helping you troubleshoot problems that arise.

The holistic approach can also apply to how they provide care in general. Physical needs like incontinence care, grooming, and transportation to medical appointments are incredibly important. But emotional and social needs should not be overlooked. Great agencies train their caregivers to look at the whole person, helping them meet their health needs on a variety of fronts.

  1. Peer & industry validation

What’s the first thing to do when you want to try something new? For most of us, it’s to ask our friends or check online to see what others are saying about it and the best way to go. The same goes for researching an in-home care agency. If you’re already looking at specific agencies, ask your friends if they have heard of them and check their online reviews on sites like Google or Facebook. Be sure to look through several to get a better picture of their reputation – the good ones and the not-so-good ones. Just remember that using reviews can be a helpful tool, but certainly not the only measure to use.

In addition to peer validation, there are organizations in your area that can also point you in the right direction. Check with your local senior center or aging agency or talk with your local hospital’s discharge coordinator to see if they have resources

  1. A focus on learning & improvement

Like any industry, there are some in-home care agencies that do the bare minimum, and some that work hard to continuously improve. A good agency will foster a culture of learning and education so they can evolve and adapt to new challenges and provide the best care possible.

Being education-focused is reflected in a variety of ways, starting with caregiver training. Some agencies not only provide continuing education opportunities to their caregivers but actually incentivize and reward them to do so through recognition and pay increases. More specialized knowledge not only equips caregivers to provide better care, it helps reduce caregiver turnover, which means greater consistency in the client-caregiver relationships.

A culture of learning also shows through how the in-home care agency works to educate you as the family caregiver. Being part of your care team means sharing their expertise to keep you informed on the best ways to care for your loved one – and how to best care for yourself as the family caregiver. Look for a blog or videos to see how each in-home care agency approaches family caregiver education.

  1. Thorough and established processes and systems

There are a lot of moving parts that have to be coordinated to start and maintain successful in-home care, from how the agency learns about your needs and matches an appropriate caregiver, to how they will supervise and support that caregiver as they handle situations that arise on a day-to-day basis. Without a system or established way of doing things, a lot of balls can be dropped, and the level of care can suffer. Ideally, the organization you choose will not only have these well-tested systems in place, they will easily be able to communicate them to you either directly or on their website (preferably both!)

A good in-home care agency will be able to tell you exactly what to expect once you decide you want to start care, and they’ll hold your hand along the way. A care manager should conduct a detailed assessment to learn as much about your loved one as possible to ensure a good caregiver match. A home inspection should also be part of the process, which may include recommended home modifications. This ensures your loved one and the caregiver working in their home will be safe.

And once care begins, there should be clear expectations as to what and when you’ll hear from the care manager regarding how the care is going. Also ask about contingency plans, like what happens if you have an emergency or for some reason your regular caregiver can’t come to work.

  1. Advanced caregiver matching

Most agencies have several caregivers to choose from, so it’s likely you’ll get one whose experience matches your loved one’s needs. But a select few agencies will go the extra mile and select a caregiver who has a similar temperament and things in common with your parent. Is your loved one a talker? Loves to play cards or watch old movies? There just might be a caregiver to match, and a good in-home care agency will ask those questions to try to get the best match possible.

Not only will your parent adapt more easily to in-home care when they like their caregiver, it will also promote consistency and longevity in the relationship. In many cases, the caregiver can become a trusted friend and even a part of the extended family.

  1. A large pool of happy caregivers

Last but certainly not least, the agency you choose should treat their caregivers well and have enough to choose from that you won’t have to worry about whether someone will show up or not. Much of the work required to have a great pool of caregivers available lies in the hiring process, but it’s not enough to just hire good people – you have to keep them! That means treating them well by offering pay increases, benefits, and continuing education opportunities as well as creating an environment for them to thrive.

How can you tell? Look for outside validation. Check to see if the agency you want to use has won any “best place to work” awards, or if caregivers have left reviews on social media platforms discussing their experience (be sure to read multiple reviews to get a more accurate picture). How an agency treats its employees can end up having a big impact on the care you receive, so don’t dismiss any red flags you see about the company culture.

Conclusion: What to look for in an in-home care agency

The big advantage of going with an in-home care agency instead of hiring and managing a private caregiver yourself is that it makes your life easier. Less stress, less time and energy spent, and more peace of mind. But not all in-home care agencies are created equal, so it’s important to do thorough research to make sure you don’t end up with more stress than you started with.

Using the right agency can result in a long-term and fulfilling relationship that improves the lives of you and your aging parent. Use this list to narrow down your choices and make the best decision possible for your family.

Which items are the list are most important to you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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