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Most families dread the day they may have to find a nursing home for an elderly loved one who can no longer be cared for at home.  However, families are more likely to have to hire help for an elderly or disabled loved one in their home before placing that same loved one in a nursing home.  And, few families consider this decision with the same seriousness as they do in choosing a nursing home.  Yet, the person or agency hired will be entering the elder’s home, will have access to the elder’s personal belongings and even valuable possessions, and will be ensuring the safety and well-being of the vulnerable elder.

Families should approach the hiring of a home health agency with the same gravity they approach the choice of a nursing home.  Family must consider the following five things when hiring a home health agency to provide care for an elderly or disabled loved one.

1.  What kind of care is needed?  If your loved one needs help with grooming, eating or reminders to take medications, non-medical or companion care may be that is needed.  If your loved one needs medications administered or therapy, he will need a medical assistance such as nursing assistance.  Some agencies provide only non-medical or companion care services.  Others may only provide medical services.  Still others provide both medical and companion care services.

2.  Be sure the agency is licensed.  Any agency you hire to provide assistance to your loved one should have a license to provide the services they will be providing to your loved one.  You can look up an agency’s license and any fines against the agency on FloridaHealthFinder.gov.

3.  Have agency employees coming into the home passed a criminal background check as part of their employment screening?  Before you hire an agency to provide care, be sure that any employee providing care in the home has passed a criminal background check.  Ask the agency when the back ground check was conducted in relationship to the employee being hired.

4.  Are agency personnel coming into the home licensed?   Personnel hired to perform certain tasks, must hold certain licenses.  For instance, in most states, to administer medication, an agency employee must have be a certified nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse.  To provide therapies such as physical or speech therapy, the personnel must hold a license to provide that therapy.  Verify with the agency that employees are licensed provide the services they are providing.

5.  Determine how the services will be paid for.  Home health services can be paid for with private funds, through Medicare or other insurance, or through Medicaid.  Before hiring an agency, be sure to determine how your loved one will pay for the services.  If the services are paid for by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance, you must choose an agency that takes that form of payment or will provide the specific services for which payment can be made.

6.  Determine whether the agency will provide service in your loved one’s home or geographic area.  Finally, before hiring an agency, determine whether they are able to provide the service in your geographical area.  Many agencies may advertise that they provide services in many counties or towns.  However, they may not have the personnel to provide those services or may charge for travel time to have an employee come to your loved one’s location, particularly in rural areas. This travel time cost can significantly increase the costs of care.  In addition, some agencies may limit their services to particular residential settings such as private homes or assisted living facilities only.

Hiring a home health agency to care for an elderly loved one can impact not only your loved one, but their home, your home and your family.  This is a serious decision that every family should make cautiously and with deliberation.