Cutting the Red Tape: Optimizing Help from Agencies


by Don Bagwell, CIRS-A

Family caregivers have enough stress in their daily lives without having anxiety about navigating the maze of community resources. Connecting with nonprofit and government agencies can be a tedious and time-consuming venture, but the effort extended may be beneficial. Here are some ideas on how to be more effective at getting the help you need:

Do a self-assessment. What would help you in your quest to assist your family member? What are your goals as a caregiver? Articulating a clear, concise request helps agency staff understand your individual caregiving needs.

Do your homework. Learn about the community agencies available in your area. Your initial contact should be to ask for a brochure outlining services so you’ll know exactly what services are offered. Know the criteria before you apply. Are you eligible? How and when should you apply?

Designate ONE spokesman or representative for your family. Multiple family members asking for services may send mixed messages to those who can assist.

Make a caregiving notebook or diary to stay on top of your interactions with agencies. Include copies of correspondence, notes about criteria, and services offered. Record names, phone numbers, dates, and details of conversations for easy reference. And always keeping your notebook by your phone provides easy access.

Carefully read and review any correspondence you receive. Agencies make a concerted effort to explain the parameters for the services offered. Make sure you understand deadlines and limitations so there are no surprises. If anything is unclear, you can always call back for clarification.

Do exactly what is requested. Usually, requests must be documented in writing so they may be adequately assessed. Check the application you submit. Does it give an accurate picture of your situation and caregiving needs? Are all questions answered? Have you provided all necessary documents, such as a doctor’s diagnosis? Make sure applications are complete. Otherwise, the review process may come to a screeching halt and cause a delay in services.

Be reasonable in your requests. Understand that many social service agencies-especially local nonprofits may now be operating with smaller budgets yet a greater demand for services. Agencies with limited resources often struggle with meeting community needs and allocating services in a fair manner to a growing pool of applicants.

Recognize that even large bureaucracies are managed by real people. Assessing needs fairly and arranging services is time-consuming, especially as community demand increases. Patience with the staff member on the telephone may be needed in the application process.

Provide honest feedback. If your caregiving needs are met, and you’ve been treated well, please say so. But also be assertive to provide specific, constructive criticism if your experience with services is less than stellar. For example, “The language you used in your letter has jargon that’s difficult to understand- can you explain this more clearly?” or, “Your website is difficult to read because it has such small print.” Agencies appreciate an opportunity to improve how they administer assistance, and they rely on consumer feedback to make positive changes.

Acknowledge the help you receive and quantify it in your feedback. Agencies are greatly concerned about measurable outcomes. They like to know what is genuinely helpful and what could be improved. How did the agency’s services really assist you? Did the assistance provided make your caregiving duties easier?

Caregiving for a family member is a rewarding experience, but providing care all alone around the clock is exhausting. Fortunately, aid and support may be available from a variety of agencies in the community. Being intentional in asking for help, articulating your needs well, and following the prescribed process will optimize the resources you might receive from local agencies.

The staff at Trident Area Agency on Aging includes a dedicated Informational and Referral Coordinator to assist with making connections to local resources. Call (843) 554-2275 for more information.