Help at Hand

7 questions to ask when hiring a home care provider

Living alone can be daunting if you struggle to do things like shower, dress yourself or cook a meal. Whether the cause of that loss is temporary or long term, home care providers offer assistance with daily living tasks during challenging times.

Thanks to this option, more people than ever are choosing to stay in their homes with help, instead of going into an assisted living facility. In fact, so many people are seeking in-home care that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 36% growth in jobs for home health and personal care aides by 2028.

Home care providers are the people you call “if you need help with bathing, dressing, meal prep, personal hygiene, medication reminders, safety or companionship,” says Susan Scatchell, director of business development for the Deerfield-based Gentle Home Services. In contrast, home health care workers provide skilled medical care in a home setting.

Cost, however, is an issue for many. Home care is a private-pay, out-of-pocket expense, and it can be “very expensive,” says Judi Jordan, who manages the Senior Center at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

The median hourly rate for a home health aide in the Chicago area is $25, according to the 2019 Genworth Cost of Care Survey. Rates can vary significantly depending on where you live and whether the aide works through an agency, which also takes a cut.

Jordan often helps seniors and their caregivers navigate the tangled web of options, pointing them toward services that can help their loved ones and provide a break for caregivers. She recalls one woman whose daughters enlisted a care provider to take their mother to get her hair done and to spend time with her.

Scatchell hears a range of requests. The need for caregiving could be short-term — a few days or weeks following a fall or illness such as pneumonia. Or it could be long-term, lasting years if the person is frail or has a chronic disease such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Individuals may need a provider for four hours a day, or they may need multiple providers who rotate for round-the-clock care.

Often, people call right when they need care, not in advance, Scatchell says. This urgency puts pressure on an already stressful situation. When people are rushing to make decisions, they may overlook key concerns or struggle with what to ask.

“People don’t know what they don’t know until they have a need,” Scatchell says. “Then they’re making quick decisions, and sometimes it’s an emotional reaction.”

Even though you might feel stressed facing a big decision, Scatchell says, remember that this is the first step in building a relationship. When you hire a home care provider, you want the caregiver to feel safe and comfortable in the home, so they can do their job effectively.


Questions for Caregivers and Agencies

A home care aide can provide a range of services, but it’s important to find a good fit for your needs. Whether you’re interviewing an individual or sourcing a provider through an agency, keep the following questions in mind.

  1. How does the agency handle the phone call? Call the agency and note who answers the phone and how they treat you, says Susan Scatchell of Gentle Home Services. If they don’t answer, pay attention to how long it takes for them to return your call.
  2. How long has the agency been in business? Look for companies that have been in business for at least five years and have gone through at least one survey with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Scatchell says. Also, ask if caregivers have prior healthcare experience.
  3. Is the company licensed by the IDPH? Not all states license non-medical home care agencies, but Illinois issues licenses for home health, home nursing agencies, home nursing placement agencies and home services placement agencies. Don’t be shy about asking the company for a copy of its license.
  4. Does the company or individual have insurance? Even wedding photographers and DJs carry liability insurance. A home care provider should offer that reassurance as well, by carrying general liability and professional liability insurance.
  5. Is a back-up care provider available? If your care provider is sick or has a personal emergency, you want to know that a back-up care provider will cover your needs. Inquire whether resources are readily available.
  6. Does the agency or individual belong to a professional association? Ask if they are members of the Home Care Association of America or other professional organization, Scatchell says. “This sends a message that they’re involved and interested in professional development,” she says. Without that resource, ask how the agency or caregiver stays current on law changes, advocacy, consumer protection and other best practices.
  7. Who supervises the care provider? Ask whether the business owner, a nurse or someone else checks on the care provider and how often they check in. You’ll want to know the supervisor’s credentials and how to reach them if any concerns arise.