How to Hire a Cancer Caregiver

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on August 13, 2022
4 min read

The home of a person with cancer is its own planet -- each has its own rhythm of schedules and treatment plans. Add in jobs, personal tasks, household chores, and nursing needs, and it can quickly seem like an ever-expanding galaxy.

It’s normal for all of that to be too much for family and friends to handle on their own. Some tasks, like giving pain medication, require special training. Wading through insurance claims can soak up hours. Meanwhile, meals, laundry, and other housework can pile up. Hiring outside help can bring respite for everyone’s benefit.

Zero in on any gaps in care you see in the home. Talk with your hospital health care team to figure out where you might need extra support. The areas could include:

Nursing: Managing meds, wounds, and other medical care

Personal: Bathing, dressing, and moving around

Emotional: Companionship, conversations, and personal support

Housekeeping: Cleaning, laundry, errands, shopping, and meal prep

Also think about loved ones who already are pitching in. Do they need regular breaks to tend to their own lives and to recharge?

Skilled Nurse

This person might be your most important, and valuable, hire. A registered nurse (RN) can take charge of the home health care plan. This professional can:

  • Set up and monitor a care plan with the doctor
  • Care for wounds, such as an ostomy (a surgical opening on the outside of the body to remove waste)
  • Give IV treatments
  • Manage meds and pain control
  • Instruct and support the family

Where to find one. A home health care agency can be a good place to find anyone from an RN to an aide to special therapists. Your doctor’s office can refer you to an agency or to another staffing registry that specializes in health care personnel.

Also check out the online directory of providers from the Visiting Nurse Associations of America or the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.

Home Health Aide

If the person with cancer needs a hand with daily routines like getting dressed and using the bathroom, a home aide can be ideal. They’re trained to work alongside a nurse and can dress wounds and help with treatment.

Where to find one. Home health care agencies employ health aides as well as RNs and other skilled professionals. Some firms focus just on home care aides. These workers usually don’t need licenses and may not have had criminal background checks. Ask the agency how they vet the aides.

You can pay for a background check yourself through online vendors. Bear in mind that in some states, background checks for these types of workers have arrests and convictions for only the last 3 years.

You may need the person to assign a waiver of confidentiality. Ask for names of previous employers and call them. Get the person’s photo ID and meet them before you make a hire.

Housekeeper/Personal Attendant

It’s easy to overlook chores unrelated to cancer -- until they stack up. You can hire someone to help with tasks like:

  • Light cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Meal prep
  • Shopping

Some home health aides also will help with these jobs.

Where to find one. You can find a personal attendant through a staffing agency or referrals from friends and family. These hires are considered independent contractors. You’d have to check their records, pay them, and supervise them.

If the person with cancer is older, check out special senior services programs in your area, or through the American Cancer Society.

Companion/Respite Care

You may already have family members or friends who visit regularly to relieve you. Or volunteers from local groups may step in for a spell. But you can also hire someone to keep company with the person with cancer so you can take a break.

Where to find one. Check out local community and civic groups, or churches or other religious organizations that might offer sitter-companion services. Your Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance plan might pay for all or some of it.

You also can call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 to find respite services in your area.

Social Worker

An oncology social worker is a licensed professional who focuses on the emotional and social needs of the person with cancer. They serve as a sort of case manager and can counsel the patient, find support resources, and even help the family scout for financial help.

Where to find one. A good place to start is with the national support organizations, like the American Cancer Society and the Association of Oncology Social Work.

You can find other helpful services through agencies and community organizations, too. These include:

  • Dietician or nutritionist
  • Emergency alert service
  • Meal delivery
  • Pharmacy service
  • Transportation

You’ll likely pay for these costs through a mix of insurance coverage and out-of-pocket spending.

Government health plans. Many health care agencies accept Medicare. If you have a doctor’s approval, Medicare, the federal health plan for seniors, and Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income people, often cover skilled professionals who come to the home. If the person with cancer is a veteran, they might qualify for services through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Private insurance. Insurance plans differ widely. For example, does the person with cancer have short-term or long-term insurance? If you have private medical coverage or long-term care insurance, check your policy before you get started with home care services. Many companies will only pay for skilled care, but not for aides or attendants. Others might limit agencies you can use.

Self pay. Often, you may need to pay for longer-term attendants and companion care yourself. Check with an accountant or tax experts on how to follow employment tax laws.

Community groups. Sometimes community organizations will help offset the cost of home care. Some places to contact include: