I'm in Crisis - Who Do I Trust?
Navigating the maze of healthcare and long term living solutions for an aging parent is an overwhelming proposition, at best. Armed only with knowledge gleaned from a conversation or two with a work colleague, a competent, intelligent, and well-intentioned daughter will begin the research process, dutifully taking notes and documenting information at a dizzying pace. It all sounds important. Home care. Assisted living. Medicare benefits. Veterans benefits. Skilled nursing...... Well, she's never heard this particular information before, so that must be important. And she talks to people. So. Many. People. Now that she has entered the world of senior healthcare and senior options, it seems there is no shortage of "experts." Flipping back and forth through her copious pages of notes, she begins to notice that her entries are starting to contradict each other - or did she write it down wrong? The confidence with which she began starts to fade and she finds herself listening to the most convincing of the "experts." The tsunami of information engulfs her, her confidence escapes her, and the common sense of questioning the authority of the individual guiding her is lost in the gratitude that someone - anyone - is here to take lead in this process. She emotionally attaches to this person, thanking them profusely for the information they are so generously providing her at the time she needs it most, blindly heeding their self-imposed authority - no questions asked.....
When in crisis, we often don't inquire about the experience or qualifications of a professional person met in the capacity of assisting with services for an aging parent. We sit with this professional person, talking about our parents in their most frail state, discussing finances, feelings, stress, guilt - we become vulnerable - but this professional is not our friend. When this professional individual sits in a position of authority - real or implied - and holds him or herself out to be an "expert," they hold a different level of responsibility for the advice they are providing. It is incredibly important to know and understand the credentials of the individual dispensing advice. For example, a conversation with a home care representative can be enlightening regarding the level of services a senior can receive in their own home. If that conversation starts to involve suggestions regarding legal documents and how to move and preserve assets to help pay for long term services - that person may have just moved into the unlicensed practice of law. That home care representative, most likely, is not licensed or insured to practice law and should not be using their position of assumed authority as the "expert" to provide advice outside the topic of home care. Financial Planning. Medicare Home Care. Assisted Living. Skilled Nursing Facilities. Advice on all these topics should be provided by an individual who is experienced and/or credentialed in their field. Some areas of senior service do not currently require experience or credentials - be particularly mindful of these "experts" - how are they qualified to provide guidance and advice in your situation?
How is your "expert" uniquely qualified?
Often times, the "expert" providing the information outside of their scope of expertise is doing so to be helpful. In truth, these "experts" may have provided a disservice with no recourse for your family in the event the advice given has a negative outcome. This "expert" may have given legal advice that ultimately results in a loss of benefits due to an error in paperwork or other deficiency. As this person is not licensed, insured, or regulated by any form of professional over-sight, there is no resulting consequence to the "expert." The senior in dire need of those benefits to pay for care will have to adjust their plan because an "expert," as well-intentioned as they may have been, gave advice outside of their scope of experience and knowledge.
With the boom of seniors occurring now and increasing sharply in the near future, many people want to be in the senior services business. As long as they stick to their area of assumed authority, they are welcome and needed. Those who wish to practice outside of their scope - be it legal advice, financial advice, or assisting with benefits and programs for which they have no credentials or required accreditation - those "experts" need to be identified and corrected. They need to be held accountable for the financial harm they can inflict on trusting families in stressful and overwhelming situations. They need to be asked, "specifically what qualifies you to provide this service?" Are they insured? Bonded? Licensed? Is there any recourse if your case is mishandled, resulting in loss of benefits or financial injury?
How do you know which "experts" are real? Ask every provider you speak with regarding an aging loved one's care - how are you uniquely qualified to assist me in this matter? It is perfectly acceptable to question credentials. Even if the service you are being provided is presented as being "free" - you still have the right to know credentials. Don't hesitate to ask anyone who is offering you a "free" service how they get paid.
Every professional should expect to be asked how they are uniquely qualified to be trusted with the care and concern of your aging parent. And may we all live up to the responsibility and confidence you place in us as senior healthcare professionals.