Being the owner of a homecare agency is getting me down. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but sometimes it’s hard for me to keep my sunny side up.
We have a lot of great clients and as hard as we try it’s impossible to please all of them all of the time. We also have a lot of great caregivers, but realistically, if we recruit well, conduct thorough background checks and train constantly, we can have a human with a kind heart, great skills and solid ethics – but we can’t have perfection.
Consider what clients truly want from their home care workers. Nurses? Housekeepers? Companions? Conversationalists? Cooks? Counselors? Social Workers? Magicians? Job’s patience? Mother Teresa’s compassion? A two-year-old’s energy? Charles Atlas’ strength? Churchill’s wisdom? Picasso’s creativity? The timeliness of a Swiss watch? Abraham’s loyalty?
As long as caregivers are recruited from the human race, they are going to be exactly human, with everything that means. This doesn’t mean clients must compromise, but it does mean they may want to be reasonable with their expectations. Do they want the cheapest caregivers possible? Or do they want well trained and well screened caregivers who are compassionate and equipped with the skills to deliver proper care and handle any emergency.
Really, we want it all. Admit it, we do – and we want it all without paying for any of it.
Every home care worker needs to be an empathetic, well-spoken, Florence Nightingale with triple majors in psychology, social work and medicine, who considers the job a calling, has no personal responsibilities or bills to pay, no nerves to fray, a car that never breaks, the strongest back on the planet, boundless energy, and who without concern for their own needs can devote full and undivided attention to their client and deliver the highest standard of care while complying with every known and unknown household norm, custom and practice. They must make coffee just so, fold the laundry just so, prepare the meals perfectly with little or no (or sometimes far too much) direction. They must turn the other cheek when experiencing unusual family dynamics or receiving rudeness, slurs, accusations, untrained opinions and other indignities from clients, family members, friends and neighbors alike while leaving their own cares at the door, wearing a smile and displaying a compassionate, understanding demeanor. They must be willing to drive for 45 minutes (each way) for that three hour shift and show up exactly on time (not 12 minutes late) whether it is snowing, raining, heavy traffic, bad GPS directions or their child is ill, and maybe their shift will be canceled after they arrive and they won’t get paid. Oops! And they must keep smiling!
If that person existed, she wouldn’t be a caregiver; she would work for the State Department. So we must deal with what exists, and what exists are humans. Humans are fallible, and their bodies are frail. They have lives, feelings and needs of their own. They have chosen a profession to help others – to take the burden off family members and enable health, dignity and independence for their clients. They are, with rare exception, very good people.
Clients’ expectations are totally justified. They are paying for services and inviting a stranger into their home to provide the same level of intimate, loving care that they would provide for their loved one. It takes time for a caregiver to earn the trust of the families. In most cases, the relationships develop and work out well, and that’s a blessing. In some cases they just don’t work out, and that’s OK too. Most reputable agencies will gladly replace caregivers upon request. What I have found over the years is that the successful get-to-know-you process takes several weeks of regular care while the family gets to know the caregiver and the caregiver learns the family’s needs and routines. At that point the caregiver gains the family’s trust and genuine caring and affection develop between the caregiver and the client. And, yes, they can even learn to overlook some of each other’s minor shortcomings. That’s when the magic happens. That said, not every caregiver is excellent and some should find other careers. Try as we may, we can’t always screen them out up front…
Isn’t every client and caregiver’s goal to find that perfect match where great service is provided and great compatibility develops and health goals are achieved? If so, isn’t it to everyone’s benefit to focus on the truly important issues and let some of the less important ones go? Each client must make their own determination as to what they will accept, and every caregiver must determine how far they are willing to go to serve their client. In the end, it’s all about the care and the results. If the client is occasionally overly demanding or grumpy or the caregiver is occasionally tardy or moody, that’s life for human beings. All marriages experience ups and downs and the successful ones learn that success requires compromise from all parties. It’s the same with the successful client-caregiver matches. And great matches make life better not only for the client and their family but for the caregiver and theirs as well. It’s a win-win. It’s worth the effort.
Home care is a people business and matching is an art. No one is infallible and no one is perfect. A home care agency cannot reasonably control every action of its caregivers all of the time. We do learn, however, and are usually able to find those (near) perfect matches where everyone is happy and well served. If our human clients could only learn to be a bit more understanding of their human caregivers and focus on what’s truly important, my life would be so much easier. And believe it or not, so would the client’s. Yes, a client’s expectations are totally justified, but they may find it in their own self-interest to be just slightly more understanding and forgiving of minor flaws.