Key questions to ask when choosing a home care provider

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If you’re over 65, you might qualify for a Home Care Package or other aged care services. A Home Care Package can enable you to receive care, such as personal care or occupational therapy, in the comfort of your home and allow you to stay in your home as you age.

Aged care is consumer-directed, which means you have freedom to choose any provider you want. However, with a Home Care Package, all your care must be managed by a single provider. This means that choosing the right provider can make a big difference to your experience. Ask the following key questions to find the best provider for you.

What fees do you charge?
Your Home Care Package grants you a specific amount of funds, depending on your level of needs, which you can use for care services. The total amount of funding is set by the government. However, Home Care providers have considerable flexibility in the way they manage your funds – and in the amount of fees they use for administrative costs. Some providers charge as much as 30 per cent of your package or more in fees. Choosing a provider with lower fees means you’ll have more money available for care, so finding a low-fee provider can be an important step in making sure your care needs are met.

When you’re considering a provider, ask what they charge for the most common types of fees:

Basic daily fee. The amount of this fee is set by the government and is based on which level of package you receive. However, this fee is optional – providers can choose whether they want to charge it or not. 

Package management. Some providers charge a flat administrative fee for package management. This fee can vary widely, and the amount is up to the discretion of the provider. As with the basic daily fee, it’s optional, so some providers don’t charge it at all.

Travel fees. Some providers charge an extra fee for a carer to travel to your house. If you live in a rural area or you’re a long way from the city centre, ask if travel fees would apply to your address.

Hourly rates. Providers also set the hourly rate for care services, so it’s important to know what the hourly cost will be for the services you need. Usually these fees are similar among different providers for similar services.

Exit fees. You always have the right to change providers if you’re not happy, but some providers will charge an exit fee when you end your contract with them. This fee is also up to the discretion of the provider.

What is the training and certification of your carers?
Individual carers who go to your home are the people who will be providing your day-to-day services, and they will have the biggest impact on your experience. With some providers, every carer who goes to your home will be directly hired and trained by the provider. Other providers subcontract to independent workers. If your provider uses independent workers, there might be more variability in quality and training among different carers. 

Ask about these key factors that influence the quality of individual carers:

Quality management. Home carers go to your home instead of working in a facility, so managers aren’t always present to observe their work. Find out what the provider does to ensure carers receive continual feedback and training throughout the course of their work.

Consistency. With some providers, it’s possible a different person could go to your home for each visit. You will likely be more satisfied with your care if your provider ensures consistency by scheduling the same person for each visit.

Cultural competency. Depending on your needs and background, you may want a carer who speaks your language, understands your culture or is knowledgeable about your religious practices.

Can I schedule care when it’s convenient for me?
Some providers make it easy for you to schedule last-minute care visits when you need them; others require advance notice. Some guarantee that their carers will arrive at a precise time, while other providers schedule your visit across a broad window. Before you choose a provider, ask about their process and expectations for scheduling care to make sure you’ll be able to schedule visits at times that are convenient for you.

Ask about the following scenarios to ensure your provider offers the scheduling flexibility you need:

Appointment times. Some providers can only schedule care in a general appointment window, which could be as long as six hours or more. Other providers let you schedule your carer’s visit for a specific time that fits your schedule, which makes it easier for you to plan your day and enjoy other activities instead of waiting for your carer to arrive.

Changing the schedule. Some providers charge a fee for last-minute changes to your care schedule. With some providers, you may have to wait several days or a week to reschedule a missed appointment. Ask about the provider’s guidelines for changing care appointments.

Holidays. Most providers charge higher hourly fees for holiday, overnight or weekend care. It’s important to know whether you’ll be able to get care on holidays and how difficult care will be to schedule if you need weekend or holiday care.

Navigating the aged care system can be challenging. By asking the right questions, you can find a home care provider who will meet your needs and enable you to continue enjoying life to the fullest in the comfort of your home.

Gareth Mahon is CEO of aged care provider The CareSide, a Perth-based company that provides home care and disability care services throughout Australia.

What advice would you give anyone about to choose a home care provider?

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