You and your family hoped this day would never come: Your parent or senior loved one used to be independent, but now they might not be able to cook, clean the house, or be left alone for long periods of time. You realize they’ll need help from a caregiver.
Families looking for caregivers have two options: They can find an agency caregiver through a licensed home care business, or they can directly hire a private caregiver who provides services independently. This process can be overwhelming, and there are pros and cons to each approach.
Here’s what you need to know before making any decisions.
Before hiring a caregiver for in-home help, you first must assess your own management abilities, according to Leslie Eckford, a nurse and geriatric clinical social worker who coauthored “Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home” with Amanda Lambert.
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If you have a management background or experience collaborating with others, you may be well-suited for managing private caregivers.
If you’ve never supervised anyone, letting an agency do all the hiring, firing, and managing may work better.Leslie Eckford, nurse and geriatric clinical social worker
There are pros and cons to using an agency to find a caregiver.
You’ll receive more in services. For example:
“Private caregivers can explain their background and training, but there is often no way to verify the information,” says Lambert.
One of the biggest advantages of using an agency is that it covers all shifts. “If a private caregiver quits or doesn’t show up for a shift, you’re responsible for finding a replacement or covering the shift yourself,” Lambert says. “An agency is going to replace that person.”
Another consideration is that if an agency caregiver is accused of stealing or some other infraction, agencies typically have a process for communicating with authorities, suspending the caregiver during an investigation, and reporting the incident to your state’s department of human services. “Hiring through an agency brings peace of mind, especially with regard to liability,” says Lambert.
You’ll typically pay more for agency caregivers than private caregivers. Agencies pay salaries for multiple employees, workers’ compensation and liability insurance, and payroll. Then agencies factor those costs into the hourly rate; the median hourly cost was $23 in 2019.
There’s also no guarantee you’ll have the same caregiver every day. You, a parent, or senior loved one may not even like the person the agency sends. You can voice your concerns, but managers may not address them to your satisfaction. You’re not the one doing the firing or hiring, so you relinquish control.
Lambert recommends asking agencies these questions:
Private caregivers for hire — sometimes called independent caregivers — may seem like the easier option, but it depends on how much responsibility you want to handle.
The main reason people hire private caregivers is lower cost, Lambert says. The average hourly rate for private caregivers in 2018 was about $17, according to Care.com.
Other reasons people hire private caregivers include:
You might save money with a private caregiver, but you’ll spend extra time on background checks, payroll, and taxes. Some people choose to purchase additional liability insurance coverage for injury or theft, depending on what they can afford and how much they trust the caregiver. You could even have legal fees if a caregiver accuses a family member or another caregiver of assault or sexual harassment.
“If you have work experience with interviewing and hiring, this would be a natural progression for you,” Eckford says. “If not, but you want to hire the caregiver yourself, do your homework first.”
Before hiring privately, Eckford recommends asking yourself these questions:
The worst thing you can do is wait and make rushed decisions when a parent or senior loved one is discharged from the hospital, Lambert says. Know what kind of caregiving resources are out there before you need them.
“Have three agencies in place. Tour assisted living communities,” Lambert says. “Be as prepared as you can and recognize that your parent is going to eventually need some help.”
Danny Szlauderbach is an editor and content writer at A Place for Mom. Since 2010, his work in strategic communications has spanned across several industries, including education, technology, and financial services. He’s a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.