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You get it and the way you describe being a hired caregiver is spot on.
I remember those days being thrown into a client's home having no idea what to expect. I used to compare the experience to an episode of that show 'Quantum Leap' because that's what it was like. That guy didn't know what he was getting into each time and neither did I. That's why I went private care only. I check out each assignment myself personally before I take it.
After many years doing this kind of work, I learned a special kind of skill.
The relationship I have with a client and their family is similar to the kind of relationship a patient has with their doctor. I am not your friend, though I'm friendly enough. I do not want to be 'like a member of the family'. I have my own family. I know the work that has to get done and the needs (including socialization) that have to be met, and this is what I do. When my workday ends, that's it. I am not available to my clients after hours who call because they are lonely or bored. It's the job of their family to deal with that after hours. If there is no family available and I have to come out after hours to handle something for a client which is extremely rare, it's a 100 dollar fee followed by double-time-and-a-half per hour for every hour I'm there. I get it too.
I remember a hysterical call from an elderly client who called me in the middle of the night. She claimed that she fell and couldn't get up. I told her to call her son and 911. Her response was that she didn't want to call her son and wake him up because he had to work the next the day. I called him and he was mad. Not at his mother, but at me for not getting up, getting dressed and driving two towns over to "help" his mother. I told him what my work hours are and reminded him that he gets a receipt every week with my hours written on it. When payday came, I made up my timesheet and receipt for him as I did every week. I included a note with it explaining what it would have cost if I did go to his mom's house that night. Miraculously, I never received a call after hours from her. I stayed on that job for years until she died too.
This has served me these many years in elder homecare. People who have never worked as caregivers have no idea what it's like to be totally on your own in a house with some demented elder and expected to get the job done.
I have been described by client families as 'nice enough' 'friendly enough'. Trustworthy, competent, and hard-working are usually in there too. I do not allow any boundaries to be crossed. Any client I ever worked for and their family understands what my job is. I've made excellent money in this work too. These days I'm thinking about trying something else though. It's time.
To the OP, you are right: people really have no idea!
The truth is a caregiver agency has one single objective and priority.
That priority is to put a worker in a house and collect the money.
There is no training of any kind. Not for CNA's who actually do the hands-on care for the patient in the home, and not for the homemaker/companions whose job it is to do the light housekeeping while basically babysitting.
No one working as a homecare employee ever received a moment of training from the agency they work for. I would know. I worked for many years as agency help before I went private cases only.
Homecare workers do get treated like crap by not just the agencies they work for who offer zero support whatsoever with low wages, but also by many clients and their families who expect a slave. If a worker is getting minimum pay, people should expect minimum quality.
I've been a long time in private care. Even still boundaries aren't always respected and I have to be strict. I do not take calls from clients after hours. I let it go to voicemail and if they're cancelling service for the following day, I will call them back promptly. I have often received dozens of calls from bored clients at all hours. They all go to voicemail and I erase them. Clients and their families are only given my cellphone number which I use for work and never my home number.
I've had family members over the years who thought they could beat around the bush when it was time to pay. This is when I make it known that I get paid no matter what, or service discontinues. I've had many families try pleading with me about just not having the money to pay and their elderly "loved one" just adores me and they'll get what I'm owed.
Nope. I'll give a person 24 hours to pay me in full if they're late. If they don't, I do not return and neither do any of the girls I might have brought onto a job if additional help was needed until payment is made.
In private care all my clients get exceptional service. It's not cheap though. If a client or family can't meet my wage requirements for some reason or another I walk away.
This is how it has to be. I would never hire agency help. Those places will hire pretty much anyone. There is zero training, support, or supervision.
I would have told them to sue me for the money, if they didn't.
I expect the agency who hires these employees to have fully trained them in the basics of "light housekeeping" like knowing how to fill a dishwasher. I know dishwashers vary, but at the very least she should have known you don't stack plates then put them in the top rack. All those little pointy things in the racks are there for a reason.
As far as the sick girl goes, it's the agency's job to get a replacement if someone calls in sick. Even if they didn't have a replacement, they could have let me know she called in sick, but instead she just showed up at my door.
As it was, I hired this agency for two weeks. I had those girls there for two days, and in the end I had to pay that agency for the full two weeks anyway, because I'd signed a contract and the owner said it wasn't "fair" to the girls that he wouldn't have work for them when I said they couldn't come back. (Never mind the fairness of not fulfilling contracted obligations by the agency.) Needless to say, I dumped them, the hospice nurse and I took care of Dad that last day, and I borrowed a caregiver from a family friend for a week to help with my mother before she moved to a nursing home.
I can't see it as a moral failing or even a barbarism that the girl didn't know one end of a dishwasher from another. There are some things you can't know unless you know. (Though actually, it's a pretty rarefied microwave that defeats me nowadays: you get good at figuring out what the warped minds of designers consider to be intuitive processes.)
If a client wants to get out of bed, we can't stop them, you know. We can advise. We can strongly advise. We can REALLY STRONGLY advise (and subtly get in the way, if need absolutely be). But we can't restrain them and there is a limit even to how much or forcefully we can argue. I posted a couple of months back about the man who got into his car and drove away, telling me I worried too much. There wasn't a thing I could do about it.
And the cold... Yes, she should have stayed home. Any responsible person would know that you don't take a cold to vulnerable older people. And if she'd stayed home, calling to say she had a bad cold, you'd be seething about how unreliable and unhealthy she was - if you believed in the "bad cold" story at all.
This is just one of the double binds we get pinched and nipped by every day of the week. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
So, this goes both ways. Employers not making expectations clear and employees agreeing to fulfill a job, until they are asked to do it. Oh, and those are the ones that do a no show, no call.
This is why employment contracts exist and you are responsible to make sure if covers everything. A contract is a MUTUALLY AGREED UPON document, so don't sign it if it doesn't meet that simple criteria.
Trust me, I was paying for much more than I got.