A Dry Spell: The Stress of Finding the Right Caregiver at the Right Time
By Leslie Eckford
It’s inevitable. You find the very best caregiver for your aging family member. That person is so warm and talented and gets along so splendidly with your parent, you just don’t know how you got along without them. And, then, it happens. They have to move on because they finished school, they got a new job in another field, they are relocating. There are many reasons. But, it is always hard when that person who has become a special part of your parent’s life has to leave the job. It can be a big loss for your elder whose circle of friends grows smaller each year. And, for you, it is a loss and a stressful time to find the right person to replace them.
Recently, I have been in the process of hiring a new caregiver for my parents. Coincidentally, it seems on every media outlet, I have been reading and hearing about the deep and devastating drought in California. During this recent search for the right caregiver, I have felt like there must be a drought of good reliable people to choose from for this important role in my family’s life. Where are all the good caregivers?
When I first started doing this for my parents some years ago, I relied on word of mouth and finding someone who knew someone who knew someone else. My parents live in a small town where everyone seems to know each other, so it made sense. Or, at least it used to make sense. After some very unfortunate and scary experiences with that strategy, I discovered Care.com.
I’ll tell you upfront that I have no ties to Care.com other than being a loyal customer. But I really love them. Over the past 5 years or so, Care.com has helped me find just the right person for different needs. I found the most awesome and dedicated cat sitter to take care of my sickly cat while I was away, and a terrific and responsible babysitter when my children were younger. Now I routinely search their pages for their senior home care individuals. Searching for a person to be in such a trusted position is not like shopping on Amazon. Care.com has definitely created a warm and friendly online format for people to find people. I find it incredibly useful to read how a candidate describes him or herself, and to find out about what experience and skill they have before I have even talked to them on the phone. The photo really helps too. I was surprised that I felt this way about a picture, thinking that I don’t really care what a person looks like. However, demonstrating that they know that there should be a difference between a photo one would post for a job application on Care.com versus what they would upload to their Facebook page can be very revealing.
Not that I have always made the best choices among the candidates. Sometimes the person that I think appears perfect for the job just isn’t. Learning as I go, I have discovered how time effective it is to use the Care.com background checks and the read the multitude of advise for the uninitiated about hiring private caregivers. I try to pay it forward and give good reviews to those who earn my admiration. One time I got a call from a person who was interested in hiring our former nanny. She got my name through Care.com and my privacy was protected. (I’m not sure that Care.com still has this feature.) I was out of town and at a family reunion dinner. It was fine with me to take a few minutes to let another person know what a positive experience our family had with this young person caring for our children. I admit though that I hesitate to post a negative review. I don’t want it to come back to haunt me in a future search. I can block the few troublesome entries from my view.
But, in my current search, I seemed to be coming up empty-handed. I had made a good contact, arranged for an interview time, reminded them that it’s fine if they change their mind, just please call me to let me know so that I can make other plans. Even with that, the interview time comes and it’s a no-show. This has happened so often that I do reminder calls and texts like a doctor’s office to see if I can reduce the no-show rate. Recently, I had a person call and say that they were on the way and never another word was heard from them at all. Did they get into an accident? Yes, I called, emailed and texted them to check. No response. Not good.
After reading Ai-Jen Poo’s book, The Age of Dignity, and understanding more about the tidal wave of the elderly population that is upon us and the limited number of qualified caregivers for them, I have grown more concerned. There is much that I disagree with in Ms. Poo’s book. I appreciate her advocacy for the people who are caregivers, but her solutions for the future of elder care are not well thought out and, to me, pie in the sky. But the book does bring to the forefront: what will it be like to search for a caregiver for an elder family member in ten, or even five years? The baby boomers will want to stay in their homes and it already is hard to find the people who are willing to do this often difficult job. As a fledging nurse in the 80’s I remember other nurses saying: you are either born to be a nurse or you are not. I meet a lot of caregivers that lend that thought to caregiving. Some seem naturally more capable of the skills and talents that it takes to do this job. With the vast number of elderly growing around the world and as the need to care for them expands, it will create drought-like conditions for finding truly compassionate care.
Thankfully, even as I have been (slowly) writing this post, some superb candidates have appeared. We’ve talked, we’ve interviewed and some have met my parents and a choice has been made. Hope returns. Mostly, it reinforces the old maxim: timing is everything. When the people who are great caregivers are out there looking for a position, they find positions quickly. You know the person that I am talking about. He or she seems to have a knack for knowing just how to communicate with your elder. They know a secret rhythm for getting your family member to do those every day things that need to get done that they would rather not do. That person with a special talent to get things done and everyone is still smiling.