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Senior care contracts: Why you need one and what to include in it

You need to have clear duties and job expectations, as well as a plan of action in case something goes wrong.

From meal prep to transportation to companionship and medication administration, you cover a lot in just a day’s work. You also genuinely care for your clients and want to help make their days easier. To do so, however, you need to have clear duties and job expectations, as well as a plan of action in case something goes wrong.

That’s where a senior care contract comes in.

Why you need a senior care contract

A contract, sometimes called an agreement, is the best way to ensure that both you and the family you work for are happy. It also provides a reference for what to expect when working with each other so that the family and the caregiver are on the same page.

Stating your certifications and trainings, as well as their parameters, in a contract is also the best way to ensure the senior is cared for in the proper capacity — especially considering the fact that most senior care providers are “non-medical providers” who do not have a certification or degree to offer medical care, explains Tafa Jefferson, CEO and founder of Amada Senior Care in Los Angeles, California. 

Jerrica Allen, a senior caregiver and now a registered nurse living in Thornton, Colorado, has firsthand experience with this. “Sometimes, families would expect me to be able to do everything a nurse did,” she says. “It was actually illegal for me to administer some medications or provide things like wound care until I got my BSN, but families didn’t know that until I explained it to them.”

In many cases, a senior may need a caregiver who is also a medical professional, such as a certified nursing assistant or registered nurse, to provide well-rounded care.  

Using a contract gives you and the family paperwork to reference should a dispute crop up over duties, pay or anything else. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

What to include in a senior care contract

A senior care contract is much like any other work contract. It states what the family or individual needs from a caregiver, as well as what the caregiver can realistically provide. These contracts should include “traditional” components, such as:

  • Schedules, including days and hours the caregiver will be working.
  • Compensation, including salaried or hourly rates.
  • Reimbursements for shopping, travel, medication purchase, etc.
  • Pay schedules and type, whether direct deposit or check.
  • Taxes, including employer responsibility.
  • Overtime and holiday pay.
  • Benefits, such as health care, dental, car, etc.
  • Vacation and time off requests.
  • Termination clauses, including how far in advance a caregiver or employer needs to provide notice.

A clear explanation of duties is arguably the most important part of a senior care contract, however, so make sure to include your duties (and their definitions) in your contract.

Potential duties to include in a senior care contract

When creating your contract, make sure to provide definitions for duties. Positions can vary widely from family to family, and there may be some expectations that are unrealistic for families new to senior care. For some families, “meal prep” includes grocery shopping for the meal’s ingredients while other families only expect the caregiver to provide meals using what’s in the house.

An example of duties to define include:

  • Meal prep, including the types of meals to be cooked and how the food will be chosen or provided.
  • Personal hygiene, including helping a senior get dressed, bathroom visits, bathing, grooming, etc.
  • Physical therapy or exercise, such as how often to encourage activity, which activities are safe, etc.
  • Travel to doctors’ appointments, pharmacies, social activities, etc.
  • Housekeeping, including laundry, cleaning, dishes, taking out trash, etc.
  • Companionship and socializing. Some families want a caregiver who serves as a companion for their loved one, while some want a caregiver to focus mostly on health care and daily needs.

Because age and health are often a concern for families hiring a caregiver, it’s also important that privacy, health care access and liability are included in your contract.

According to Sharon Maguire, chief clinical quality officer of BrightStar Care in Gurnee, Illinois, senior care-specific contracts should also include:

  • Privacy agreements, such as a non-disclosure agreement. Social media use clauses are also common to protect the privacy of care recipients.
  • Health care permissions, including contractual permissions to make appointments, pick up prescriptions, etc.
  • Provision of supplies and adaptive tools, stating that the individual or family will provide their own medical supplies (as is generally the case), such as needles for insulin, and adaptive tools like wheelchairs.
  • Liability coverage to ensure that both the caregiver and senior are covered in the event that something happens. You may need to provide this liability insurance yourself, as the senior or family’s insurance will only cover certain events.
  • Dispute resolution and legal processes, in the event that the family and caregiver have a disagreement or seek legal counsel. This often includes a process for discussing problems with the family (in person, via email, etc.), as well as how to escalate disputes if they can’t be resolved.

Susan Satchell, of Gentle Home Care in Deerfield, Illinois, adds that contracts are a good place to include emergency contacts and protocols. Emergency protocols (such as what to do if your client should fall ill), who to call in the event of an emergency and “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) agreements are an important part of a caregiver contract or agreement. Because senior care often comes with medical emergencies, this is an important element that can protect the caregiver if their client’s health suddenly takes a turn for the worse. This can also be included in a plan of care.

How to create a contract for your senior care position

For some senior care positions, the family will provide a contract when they make you a job offer. However, for less formal job postings, you may need to initiate a conversation about contracts. This can feel uncomfortable to some, especially if you’re new to senior care. But to ensure everyone is equally protected and so your duties are clearly outlined, it’s very important to have everything in writing.

Simply ask the family or senior you’re caring for to help you create a contract that serves as a reference for your duties and schedule. If a family refuses to create a contract, that may be a sign the job is not for you. These contracts provide a framework for your working relationship, as well as to protect both parties.

To create your own contract, you can use a senior care contract template and add addendums for any components that are specific to your new position. From there, you can work with the family or senior to fill out the contract. Once it’s signed, you’re ready to start work.