Racial Bias in Requesting Caregivers: How to rise above this problem!

“My father will not tolerate a ____________ (fill-in-the-blank) caregiver.  Can you promise me a ____________ one?”

Having run a home care business for over 30 years I have heard this request many times over to my disbelief and sadness that an adult would not just want the best trained, most experienced, and kind caregiver for their parent.   However, these types of requests continue and most home care staff like mine explain to families that we do not discriminate and base our matches on needs, training, interest, and personalities.  Sometimes they just hang up and move to another agency with the same request.

Families usually blame the elder for the request and say they are not biased, but that their parent would not let an XYZ in their home because of a past incident with someone of that background or because of dementia.  This is where we talk about working with a professional Geriatric Care Manager, now also called an Aging Life Care Expert(r), on how that person would work closely with their family member in making the match work.

If this is something you have experienced with a parent in need of care, there are lots of approaches that can help break that color or nationality barrier.  What a professional care manager will do before bringing in a caregiver is to meet the elder or talk to them on the phone about their interests, their life story, and their current needs.

We hear that your dad was in the Navy and has a passion for sailing; he loved to play softball, had a vegetable garden, and loves country-western music.  We also hear that he needs some fitness training to build strength after a long hospital stay, lives alone, and is a little depressed.  The daughter has no idea where his bias came from, but she has heard him over the years talk despairingly about certain groups of people and that is why she made such a request.

We will take all those interests he has and find a match and tell him about the person before the introduction.  We will also let the caregiver know he might not be the most cordial based on information from the family.  A wonderful black caregiver of ours who was chosen caregiver of the year said that she just walks in the first day and says, “You really don’t want me and I know it, but give me a chance and see what we can do together to make life better.”   She says it is not just about her color but about “care” in general – no one really wants to be interdependent.

One thing I have seen in this circumstance is that we send a caregiver that loves to garden, also was in the Navy, and enjoys singing country-western.  The caregiver might also have been a physical therapy assistant and can help him meet his goals to walk without a walker.   We tell the client that this is just a trial assignment and he has to agree to keep the caregiver for two weeks and if he is unhappy after the two weeks we will look for another match.

Nine times out of ten this approach works with clients resistant to care or who had expressed a bias against some group of people to family in the past.   When this works it is most often a match made in heaven and the relationship becomes stronger and the individual with the bias, even if they have dementia, just sees a loving, caring, companion who is making their life joyful again.  It is actually very beautiful to see and witness these types of relationships.

To find a professional Aging Life Care Manager to help you, and your family, find the right care for your elder loved one, heal the racial bias, and build a good relationship of care and quality of life, go to the “Find an Aging Life Care” professional search at www.aginglifecare.org. Simply enter your zip code and you will receive results of Aging Life Care Professionals you can then interview to find someone who can assist with this challenge.  Aging Life Care Experts have backgrounds in counseling, gerontology, mental health, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, or social work; with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.  Most are also certified as Care managers besides their educational degree and/or license.

About the Author:  Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC who is a consultant, counselor and coach for family caregivers.  Linda is in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached at LindaFJ620@outlook.com or www.LindaFodriniJohnson.com.  Linda has been a care manager since 1984 and is a Past President of both the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers now called the Aging Life Care Association and of the Western Chapter.  She owned a full-service care management, home care, and family education business for 30 years and sold it in 2019.  She has received numerous awards and those can be seen on her website.

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