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Questions to Ask a Potential Homecare Worker

You made the decision to hire someone to help care for your parent, based on a needs assessment and in conjunction with family members and medical professionals. You created a home care plan and know that you need a reliable health care worker, one who is experienced in a situation like yours.

If you are looking for skilled medical care and can afford it, the experts recommend using a licensed agency to find an in-home worker. The agency manages the administrative work — payroll, worker's compensation and liability coverage and background checks. If you hire a private contractor, these responsibilities are yours and you may not get candidates with the same level of experience; also, there's no guarantee of a substitute if your caregiver is ill. But with a single contractor, you choose the worker you want.

"A worker must be able to lift your parent, lift heavy items, and bend and move appropriately. She must be able to support your parent's weight in the event your parent falls or is injured."

Regardless of whether you go with an agency or an independent, there are specific documents you must see before you move on to the interview stage. After you have a list of candidates (from an agency or in response to an ad), make calls and conduct a preparatory interview by telephone to make the first cut. Ask the following questions:

  1. Are you currently certified as a home health aide in this (your parent's) state? If the answer is "yes," ask that the candidate bring a copy of his current certification to the interview. A state certification is evidence that the candidate was specially trained and also demonstrated a level of competency in the treatment for older adults. Aides are taught how to prevent skin breakdown (bed sores) for non-ambulatory patients, change bed linens while the patient is still in the bed and bathe a bedridden individual.
  2. Do you have a current health care clearance signed by a physician confirming that you are free from tuberculosis and other communicable diseases? If the answer is "yes," ask that the candidate bring a copy of her current certification to the interview. This important document attests to the candidate's fitness to perform the tasks required, primary among these is the ability to keep you parent safe. A worker must be able to lift your parent, lift heavy items, and bend and move appropriately. She must be able to support your parent's weight in the event your parent falls or is injured.
  3. Are you a legal resident of the United States or do you have work authorization? Residency status is a sensitive topic but this is an important question to ask. Some people don't ask and don't care. But it can be an issue when dealing with the IRS. When your worker is hired, make a copy of his official photo identification for your file.
  4. If you're hired, will you be willing to sign a contract? Signing a contract will protect you and the worker. The document should include: a task list, salary specifics, benefits (if applicable), details concerning schedule, house rules, etc. Before drawing up any sort of contract, you may want to consult an attorney.

Narrow the field

After the preliminary telephone conversation, narrow the field. Choose two or three candidates and set up times to meet. When you schedule the interviews, explain that you will pay the candidates for one or two hours of their time. If your parent is well enough, invite him or her to participate. If that is not possible, ask a friend or colleague if they are willing help with this task. Do not interview alone. You will benefit from other people's observations, and they can catch things you miss.

Begin the interview by providing a summary of your parent's condition. Be open and honest. Also brief the candidate on the tasks to be performed and the time commitment you are seeking.

  1. Why do you do this kind of work? Ask the person to discuss his or her background and work experience. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, especially when they know someone is listening. So begin the interview with a broad question to draw the candidate out. Your objective is to get a sense of who this person is and if your parent (and you) will feel comfortable with him or her in your household. Is he able to communicate effectively? Have a sense of humor? A confident person? Ultimately, the person you will want to hire is respectful, compassionate, convivial and nurturing.
  2. Have you ever cared for someone in a similar condition? Is there any aspect of my parent's condition that makes you uncomfortable? You want to determine if (a) the candidate truly grasps the reality of your parent's condition or issues, and (b) he or she has the necessary experience to draw upon. This is where you learn if she truly understands the job that has to be done. An experienced health care worker will be willing and able to discuss the issues. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions and find out specific details.
  3. Is there any part of this job description you are uncomfortable with? In other words, tasks you can't or won't perform? Don't assume anything about a candidate. This question provides another opportunity to speak frankly about your parent's needs and get a sense of the candidate's true level of understanding and professionalism.
  4. Do you have any special needs or requests with regard to the schedule? Any time-off needs or requirements? Are you available, if necessary, for overnights, weekends, etc.? Continuity is an important part of eldercare. When you hire someone — whether the assignment is short- or long-term — it is critical to your parent's well-being, not to mention your own, that the homecare plan runs smoothly. The only way that can happen is if your worker can and will follow the schedule. Better to get these questions answered now rather than later.
  5. Do you have any questions for me? Open up the floor and encourage a dialogue.
  6. Can you provide at least three references? This question is reserved for the person who meets your requirements. Ask for at least three — two professional and one personal. When they are provided, call. When you make contact, tell the person exactly why you want to hire the worker. Assure the individual you contact that anything he or she says will be kept confidential. Regardless of how you feel about the candidate (impressed, excited, etc.), you must follow up and check references. It could make the difference between finding a good, healthy situation and one wrought with problems.