Saturday, August 4, 2012

Home Care Agencies Hiring Unqualified Caregivers, Study Finds

A new survey has shed light on the hiring practices of private home care agencies, and the news is not good.  In many cases, agencies are sending to the homes of vulnerable elderly patients workers with little or no experience or knowledge, no training, and inadequate background checks.

The study, which was carried out by researchers at Northwestern University, surveyed 180 private home care agencies in Illinois, California, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  (The study did not include agencies that are certified by Medicare and are subject to federal regulations.) 

The researchers posed as people calling the agency to obtain assistance for a family member, and they queried the agencies about their hiring and oversight of their caregivers.  The results may surprise families who assume that agencies follow strict hiring guidelines.

For instance, none of the agencies assessed their caregivers' ability to understand medical terminology, and only 15 percent provided their caregivers with any training prior to sending them out to clients.  Although slightly more than half (55.8 percent) of the agencies surveyed ran criminal background checks on their caregivers, none conducted checks outside of their own states, meaning that caregivers with criminal records in other states could still be employed. 

According to a summary of the study in the Senior Journal, more than one agency told the researchers that they used screening tests that don't exist, such as the “National Scantron Test for Inappropriate Behavior” and the “Assessment of Christian Morality Test.”

"People have a false sense of security when they hire a caregiver from an agency," the study’s lead author Lee Lindquist, M.D., said in a statement. "There are good agencies out there, but there are plenty of bad ones and consumers need to be aware that they may not be getting the safe, qualified caregiver they expect. It's dangerous for the elderly patient who may be cognitively impaired."

"Some of the paid caregivers are so unqualified it's scary and really puts the senior at risk" for elder abuse, Lindquist said.

Only a third drug-tested their workers.  "Considering that seniors often take pain medications, including narcotics, this is risky," Lindquist said. "Some of the paid caregivers may be illicit drug users and could easily use or steal the seniors' drugs to support their own habits."

Hiring a caregiver through an agency has a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to the logistics of paying the caregiver and complying with state and federal employment regulations.  But as the Northwestern University study shows, not all agencies are alike.  It's up to the customer to spend the time and effort to vet both the caregiver and the agency, asking questions about how the agency screens and assesses its caregivers.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  To read the study abstract, and find links to the study itself, click here.

To read a detailed analysis of the study in The New York Times’ New Old Age blog, click here.

For questions to ask a potential caregiver, click here.

To learn about questioning a home care agency, click here

Reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am agree on this thought, but there are some firms who cares elders by extreme care they can be found by getting the experiences who has already gone through this practice ,in New York Home Care Agencies people can have an insured agreement when it comes on hiring care takers for our elderly ones.

  3. I agree that there can be some agencies that do hire Unqualified Caregivers. But I know about some Home care agencies who hire the employees only after doing background checks with local police department, legal aid service etc.And they provide a very good live-in-care to our loved once.

  4. It seems in several cases that the death reason was carelessness or no care as the staff is not so properly trained.Elder Abuse Attorney St Louis

  5. urprisingly! It’s like you understand my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some images to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog. A good read. I’ll certainly be back.
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  6. That's always the case for anything. Bad apples are bound to get mixed with the good ones. Always make sure that you get the proper live-in care service. Study. Scrutinize. Inspect. And find out if this service has everything compensated for.

    Theodore @ Live-In Comfort