A Caregiver Shares: How My Effort to Save on Home Care Costs Backfired

When I first sought senior home care for my Dad, I was so worried about the costs. I called around comparing caregiver hourly rates. I asked friends how they had found someone to care for their parents. Finally, I decided to try to hire a nursing student or someone who would like to get free room and board for helping. I put an ad in the paper and online. We found a nice older lady, Anne, who we both liked. We did a background check and she had no criminal record. So, we made an arrangement for her to move into Dad’s spare room and help him with daily tasks. We kept his regular housekeeper to do the big cleaning tasks.

It all seemed to be going well. The first thing that worried me a bit was when Dad told me he’d let his housekeeper go. He said Anne was helping with everything. Then Dad hinted around that Anne could help with his bill paying, so he didn’t need to “bother” me. I decided to visit on Anne’s day off, but she was always there anyway. I finally got some time alone with Dad one day. When I looked at his bank statements, I immediately noticed some unusual charges.

It turns out Dad had been “helping Anne” by buying her clothes and other items she said she needed. She also did the grocery shopping with cash Dad provided. I estimated that she must be taking extra cash for herself. He was upset and swore she wasn’t stealing. Dad swore she did a good job and “deserved a few extras”. In just a short time, these costs had already added up to more than $1000…so my efforts at saving money completely backfired. It was quite a process to resolve the situation. I had a hard time convincing Dad to get rid of Anne and hire someone else. This time I made sure to hire a licensed home health company. They have insurance, staff training, written policies, and management who help me keep an eye on things/resolve problems.

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How to Avoid the Little Home Care Mistake that Can Cost You

  • Don’t hire a “private” or “live in” caregiver unless you’ve carefully prepared. You can you run into situations like above and have little repercussion (even if your parent is willing to report theft, these crimes are hard to prosecute and money’s rarely recovered). You also run a lot of risk. For example, think about what might happen if the home care worker gets injured on the job.
  • Don’t focus on hourly costs of home care. Focus on value. A good quality caregiver who is trained and works according to a supervised written care plan will likely provide a lot more “bang for the buck”. You’ll waste a lot less of your time. Remember the costs that a home care agency incurs on your behalf. These include screening, training, management, liability insurance, worker’s comp., handling taxes and compliance.
  • Watch out for “red flags” (which are often subtle, and even appear helpful at first). Is a caregiver isolating your loved one? Are they convincing your parent to fire other helpers, hurrying up phone calls, taking over all appointments/tasks? Does the caregiver blur personal boundaries (calling your Dad, “Dad”; telling lots of personal stories, especially tales of woe and financial troubles)? Have there been significant changes to your loved one’s routines or plans (switching doctors or lawyers, not attending church/activities)?

Home Care Resources: Safeguarding Your Loved One

  1. Simplify bill paying and minimize potential money problems. Set up online bill pay (with access for the responsible party to assist/monitor when possible). Set major bills for auto pay. Some providers can be paid with a credit card on file, pre-pay, gift card or invoice (to avoid handling cash). For example, our clients’ families often set up accounts with the local taxi company and pharmacy (which also delivers).
  2. The True Link Visa card offers all the freedom of cash, credit or debit cards while protecting your loved one from potential scams and other financial abuse. It can be customized to prevent telephone purchases, disable wire transfers, block certain merchants, or limit ATM withdrawals. You can receive real-time alerts.
  3. Online services offer added convenience for elders living alone. They can extend the value of home care services. Shipt brings the groceries right to your doorstep. Amazon Prime or local stores may be options in your area. Services like Blue Apron, Peach Dish or Hello Fresh make it easy to cook healthy meals with no hassle. Or, have the meals cooked up for you by hiring a caregiver for weekly meal prep or ordering delivery from Dinner Done!

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