When you hire a caregiver for your senior loved one, you always hope for the best. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.
Alex S. hired two caregivers to stay with his father, who can’t drive anymore and was having an increasingly difficult time getting around his two-bedroom apartment and taking care of himself.
“We hired one caregiver for four days a week and another for three days,” Alex says.
While one of the aides did a great job, the other was unreliable — constantly coming late or asking the other aide to cover for her and sometimes causing a last-minute scramble for coverage. The last straw was when Alex installed an indoor security camera and noticed the aide was spending most of her time on the couch, even when his father needed help.
“We were really worried that my dad would fall, and that would be a disaster,” Alex says.
But when it comes to firing a caregiver, it can be a much more delicate situation than, say, firing the gardener who may work for several clients.
“Often people are reluctant to fire a caregiver, not just because they’re worried about finding someone new and having a gap in care, but they may be genuinely worried the aide won’t be able to find another job,” says Amanda Lambert, a geriatric care manager in Salt Lake City and co-author of “Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home.” “But the most important concern should be: Is your family member getting the care they need?”
If you feel the aide you hired is not up to the job, here’s how to proceed.
Provide feedback and give them a chance to improve before you call it quits
Obviously, if you suspect abuse or neglect, you should let the aide go immediately, even if it means a family member will have to help out until you can hire someone new. But if it’s just a matter of the aide leaving the kitchen a mess, arriving late, not engaging the senior in conversation or not having the right personality to mesh with your relative, give very specific feedback and see if the situation improves, Lambert says.
“I believe in being direct and giving the aide a chance to explain why they are not fulfilling their duties,” Lambert says. “If there are tasks you want them to do, be very specific, and make sure it’s all written out.”
(If you created a plan of care, now is the time to review it together.)
Lambert also points out that as the needs of the senior change, it can be difficult for the aide to make changes midstream, unless he is directly instructed on what needs to be done.
If the aide works for an agency, let them handle it
If the aide works for an agency, do not discuss the termination directly with the caregiver, says Lambert, who advises you call the agency, explain the problems and ask them to send someone new.
“The agency should be able to replace the caregiver immediately, even if it means a supervisor has to fill in for a few days,” Lambert says.
If you hired the caregiver privately, try to line up a new one before you let them go
This can be tricky because you don’t want to let the current caregiver know they will be losing their job while they are still taking care of your relative. If possible, interview potential new hires at an outside location, like a coffee shop or a relative’s home, and make sure you have someone ready to start ASAP so there is no gap in care.
You can also look into temporary respite care to fill in before you find a new caregiver who is a better, and more permanent, fit.
Be firm but kind
“When you tell the aide that they are being replaced, don’t blow up or get angry,” Lambert says. “Explain the reasons, and say, ‘We’ve asked you to make these changes, but we just don’t think it’s working out.”
She adds that if the aide has been working for you for more than a few months and it was truly just not a good fit, you can offer to pay them two weeks’ severance and write a letter of recommendation (but only offer if you believe they might be a good fit with another family).
Alex found a solution when the unreliable aide was out of town for a week, and the reliable aide who covered the four-day shift asked her sister to fill in the other three days.
“We realized the sister was a much better fit, so we told the aide not to come back after she returned from vacation,” Alex says. “We had been talking to her constantly about her absences and asking her to do more activities with my father, so I don’t think it was a surprise when we let her go.”
The most important thing, says Alex, is that he can now sleep at night without worrying that his father will trip and fall while the aide is distracted.
“We found the right fit, and that makes all the difference,” he says.