When seniors and their families look for home care services, most do what any of us would do – research. They ask trusted advisors, friends, and neighbors. They call prospective service providers and interview them, compare important features and costs, and ultimately come to a decision that will prove to be the right choice.

There are many resources seniors and their families have when it comes to finding home care services. Every county has a Senior Information and Assistance which keeps resource lists. A geriatric care manager who subscribes to the standards of practice of the National Association for Professional Geriatric Care Managers can also be a knowledgeable and impartial advisor. For Washington State non-medical private duty home care agencies, the Washington Private Duty Association (WAPDA) has an excellent website with a complete listing of members.

However, in the past few years, a number of for-profit senior care referral service companies have sprung up that blur the line between information and ethics. You may have seen their advertising or listened to their sales pitch – “No cost to families” is always included. These companies present themselves as impartial 3rd parties connecting seniors and their families with home care agencies. But left out of the sales pitch is the fact that these referral services will only refer to a home care agency if that agency agrees in advance to pay a stiff and sometimes exorbitant fee to the referral service company which most home care agencies refuse to pay. The unknowing consumer is thus left with fewer and often inferior choices.

Not all referral services are the same. There is at least one national company that charges home care agencies reasonable fees and which most home care agencies use. But that is the exception, not the rule.

We urge all professionals, including hospital and nursing home discharge planners making referrals to home care agencies, to develop their own trusted lists of agencies instead of using a referral service.