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It is a fact of life that, as we age, we tend to lose the ability to take care of ourselves like we used to, and find we need some help. It may be as simple as having someone help with bathing, dressing and feeding, or it may be more involved such as skilled care after a hospital stay. In many cases, this care can be provided in our homes by friends and family. But often, we may not have loved ones who are available or capable of providing the assistance we need. In these cases, home care agencies can help.
In an AARP survey, 89 percent of Americans age 50 and older said if they needed to receive assistance with daily activities, they'd prefer to receive it in their own homes.
The first step to selecting a home care agency for yourself or a loved one is to determine the agencies and types of assistance available in your community. Thousands of Ohioans currently receive care through hundreds of home care providers across the state. The Ohio Council for Home Care and Hospice (OCHCH) provides a searchable database of home care agencies of all types on its Web site. Assistance also is accessible over the phone at (614) 885-0434. Information available includes agency type, services provided, payment sources accepted and counties served. Your local health department or area agency on aging also may be able to point you to agencies in your area.
Once you know what agencies are in your area and provide the services you or your loved one need, you will want to know if an agency is Medicare-certified. If a home care agency is certified, then you know it has met minimum federal requirements for patient care and financial management, and therefore can provide Medicare and some Medicaid home health services. The Ohio Department of Health provides information on these agencies. Keep in mind, however, that if an agency is not Medicare-certified, that does not mean it provides poor care, just that they have chosen not to participate in Medicare. In many cases, these agencies adhere to their own standards, which can be higher or lower than those for Medicare certification.
Another way to determine an agency's standards for care is to look at accreditation. Ohio currently does not require home care agencies to be licensed, but nonprofit professional organizations conduct voluntary accreditation processes that signify that the agency has met national industry standards that are approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Ask the agency for information about their accreditation and the standards they meet.
Next, pay attention to what the agency has to say about itself. Most agencies provide literature explaining their services, eligibility requirements, fees and funding sources. An annual report can provide helpful information about the agency in one document. Many providers also supply patients with a detailed "Patient's Bills of Rights" that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the providers, patients and caregivers alike.
Other information you should know about agencies you are considering is harder to come by, but no less important. For example, you will want to know how long the agency has been serving the community and its overall reputation in the community. You will also want to know how an agency selects and trains its employees and whether it protects its workers with written personnel policies, benefits packages and malpractice insurance. Does it conduct a criminal records check on new employees? Some of this information may be available from the agency or at your local library, but some is only available via word-of-mouth.
Once you have an idea of the agencies you like, OCHCH suggests you talk to the agency and get the answers to these questions:
Taking the time to get answers to these questions can give all family members the peace of mind that they have done their best to make a good choice. If you are researching agencies on behalf of someone else, involve her in the process as much as possible and ensure that she is comfortable with the selection.
The staff of Boomerang thanks the Ohio Council for Home Care and Hospice for contributing to this article.