August 2, 2010 | last updated March 25, 2012 2:29 am

Standards In Elder Care Lacking

Massachusetts is projecting huge growth in its aging population — a nearly 50 percent increase in seniors 60 years or older by 2020, according to the state's Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

Increasingly, Massachusetts seniors are choosing to remain in their homes, which has spurred demand for in-home care providers.

The growth in the demand for these services, and the fact that those services can vary widely — ranging from skilled nurses to home-health aides to companions — underscores the need for defining the standards of care.

Leadership Vacuum

Unfortunately, the state has not set standards for the type of services that are the least defined: in-home non-medical care for seniors. Providers must take it upon themselves to clearly communicate what quality measures they take with their clients at the beginning and throughout the relationship.

For the sake of their clients and the growing field, it also means working across the industry to create baseline quality standards.

Leaders in providing quality in-home care need to continue to raise the bar on what they expect of their own organizations and as an industry in Massachusetts.

Formalizing and creating quality expectations and guidelines for their offices and employees ensures a consistency of service and a company culture of excellence. These plans and feedback loops also need to be shared and used with seniors and their families.

Providers that participate in well-known quality assessment programs like JD Powers or nominate caregivers for awards and recognition show a strong and public commitment to service.

Providers serving on committees and boards for organizations like the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts foster collaboration in establishing quality standards and coming to common understandings for meeting and exceeding quality baselines.

Until, if, and even after a time comes when standards might be formalized on Beacon Hill for in-home, non-medical senior care, it is up to providers and families to continue to work together to advocate for seniors.

Having a positive, productive and above all safe experience for a senior loved one is not optional — which is why in providing care, quality must be job No. 1.

Laurie Bender is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Northborough and Natick. Visit www.homeinstead.com/ma for more information.

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