While assisted living communities and home care agencies frequently collaborate, successfully forging those kind of relationships can be difficult.
It’s for this reason that leaders from two Midwestern assisted living communities provided insight into how and when they partner with home care agencies Wednesday during the fifth annual 2018 Private Duty Symposium, organized by LeadingAge Illinois, Illinois HomeCare & Hospice Council and the Home Care Association of America’s Illinois chapter.
“Your agencies are only as good as your last staff member,” Diane Oremovich, health and wellness administrator of Peace Village in Palos Park, Illinois, said during a symposium presentation. “If I’ve had a bad experience and you have not resolved that experience with me, then you will not be asked back.”
Peace Village is a 300-unit senior living community that regularly partners with home care agencies. The community currently has a mix of 30 part-time and 24-7 caregivers across its independent living operations, plus an additional caregiver that works within its assisted living stock, Oremovich said.
Jacqueline Sander, executive director and partner of The Birches in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, also outlined her home care dos and don’ts at the symposium.
“There are a lot of moving parts with assisted living communities and home care agencies,” Sander said. “You’re involving a whole other team.”
The Birches, a 90-apartment community, works with home care agencies to provide six caregivers across its assisted living units and two caregivers throughout its memory care wing, Sander said. Both segments also have some residents receiving hospice care.
Communication, responsiveness are keys to success
When home care agencies work within an assisted living community, the assisted living provider is still ultimately responsible for each resident that lives there. That makes communication between the assisted living community, the home care provider and the resident receiving services — as well as his or her family — absolutely crucial, according to Sander.
Communication is becoming especially important because assisted living residents are typically older and frailer than in the past, as many Americans are trying to remain in their homes aging in place for as long as they possibly can, Sander said.
“What used to be in skilled facilities is now in assisted living,” she said. “And what used to be in assisted living is now in independent living.”
To help address that very issue, Knoxville, Tennessee-based Dominion Senior Living recently announced it is partnering with international home care franchise company Right at Home on a new pilot program at its Clemson, South Carolina master-planned Patrick Square community called Dominion Home Living.
Communication between home care agencies and residents is also vital, meaning agencies that offer services to strategically “pair up” personalities of caregivers and seniors have added partnership appeal.
In terms of workflow, the assisted living providers needs to be informed whenever a change in the care plan is initiated, regardless of whether it’s on the home care agency’s end or the resident’s. Additionally, home care agencies should expect to follow community policies at all times for the health hand safety of residents.
When unexpected issues pop up, home care agencies shouldn’t try to address them alone, Oremovich said. Instead, they should seek out their contacts at the assisted living community and let them know a problem occurred.
“It’s really important to say, ‘I’ve got a problem. I’ll address it. I’m going to fix it,” Oremovich said. “You will go 10 miles longer in my list of being a preferred provider for me than you would otherwise.”
Caregivers from home care agencies should help the residents they’re caring for interact with their neighbors, Oremovich said, but they should never solicit services while on the job. Doing so will almost certainly cause an agency to be dropped from Peace Village’s preferred provider list, she added.
Specialized training helps agencies stand out
Besides a commitment to communication, specialized training programs focused on dementia and end-of-life care also give home care agencies a clear edge over their competitors, according to Sander.
That should be music to home care providers’ ears, as many have rolled out and promoted in-house training programs for their caregivers in recent months. That group includes Sunrise, Florida-based Interim HealthCare, which launched a patient-centered dementia program in August.
Interim’s recently launched dementia program is designed to educate the 40,000 caregivers and staff members working across the franchisor’s network. Through the program, Interim hopes to give its caregivers the tools and patience they need to better understand and care for patients affected by memory loss.
Other agencies have taken similar efforts focused on death and dying.
“If you’ve got a specialization to deal with death and dying, that’s a pretty awesome thing,” Sander said.
At least in Illinois, assisted living regulations require 12 hours of dementia-specific training for direct care staff working in memory care neighborhoods. That’s in addition to the minimum of eight hours of continuous training a year for direct care staff not specific to dementia.
Nearly 50 million people worldwide live with a form of dementia, research by the World Health Organization has found. The figure is projected to triple by 2050.
Other important tips
Home care agencies should never begin services without notifying the assisted living community or use staff from a third-party entity that is not consistent in their services.
Additionally, home care agencies should make sure caregivers are actually providing specified care and not just serving as companions. To ensure that’s happening, some assisted living communities may gravitate toward agencies with well-documented “pop-in” policies, Oremovich said.
Another tip: Tell caregivers to stay off smartphones while in the dining room, as residents value the social aspect of community meals.
Written by Robert Holly