Living Columns & Blogs

When the caregiver needs care, then what?

You’re getting your kids ready for school and your phone rings. It’s Sam, your parents’ neighbor, calling to say that your mom fell and the ambulance is on the way. Your heart drops; your mom has been taking care of your dad with dementia for years. Everything was fine, until now.

Unfortunately, these types of situations can happen in a matter of seconds. When emergencies like the above scenario occur, it can be very difficult to comprehend the complex world that is senior health care. What happens to your mom when she is released from the hospital? What about your dad’s care while your mom is in rehab? While there are many options available, if you want them to stay in the place they call home then you need to understand home care, home health care and private duty nursing.

What is home care?

If you are looking for non-medical care to help with your dad while your mom recovers, then a home care agency may be for you. Home care agencies provide assistance with:

  • Personal care (i.e. bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.)
  • Transportation
  • Meal preparation
  • Light housekeeping
  • Companionship

Home care can be paid for in a number of ways including, but not limited to, long-term care insurance, private pay, the Medicaid waiver or the Medicaid options program through your local Area Agency on Aging.

What is home health?

Home health, although often used interchangeably with home care, is a different type of service. Home health is skilled care that is provided by a registered nurse or certified health professional such as an occupational or physical therapist. A home health company provides skilled nursing services, such as:

  • Wound care
  • Injectable and non-injectable medication administration
  • Removal and replacement of aseptic dressings
  • Occupational/physical therapy

Home health is often ordered by your doctor and is paid for by Medicare for a period of time. You should think of home health like a prescription from your doctor, it will end or need to be “refilled” after 60-90 days. Home health care can also be paid for by Medicaid waiver. Most often people need both services in order to stay in the place they call home, therefore home health is often being provided in the home alongside home care services.

What is private duty nursing?

Private duty nursing has been in practice since the 1980s. Private duty nursing is care provided by nursing staff, whether a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.

Most nurses who provide private duty care are working one-on-one with individual clients. Such care is provided in the client’s home, or an institution, such as a nursing home or other such facility, wherever the senior calls home. This service is paid for privately.

Private duty nurses can also work in the ever-growing field of home care. Companies like Comfort Keepers in State College offer a unique set of services to include both private duty nursing and home care services. Family members find this type of service model convenient because they can have one contact for both types of amenities that are needed in the home.

Where to go for help?

The Centre County Office of Aging, 355-6716, is a great place to get information on different companies that may be able to provide care for your parents. Additionally, if you’re in an emergency situation and your loved one ends up at the hospital or a rehabilitation facility, you will be working with a case manager to help guide you through the process.

Before hiring an agency

Since there are so many home care and home health agencies to choose from in Centre County, it can get quite overwhelming as you choose the right one for your loved one’s needs. It’s important to do your homework when working with an agency. Here are some questions that may help you find the right care for your parents:

  • How will the agency meet the level of care you need?
  • Is the agency able to provide staffing for the times you need per day and per week?
  • What payment options are available?
  • How is the plan of care communicated among caregivers, nurses and family members? How often is the plan updated?
  • Does the agency have 24/7 availability in case of an emergency?
  • What is the hiring process for the agency’s staff?
  • What type of training is provided to staff? How often and by whom?
  • How does the agency match a direct care worker or nurse with your parents?

Your parents can continue to live at home safely with the help of a home care, home health, private duty nursing agency or a combination of services. It’s never too early to start educating yourself on local providers so that if the need arises you are prepared to help your loved ones.

Dawn DeHaas, RN, is a member of the Comfort Keepers team. Comfort Keepers is a local agency offering both home care and home health services and serving Centre, Blair and Clearfield counties. For more information, visit or call 861-1600.