Nebraska senator proposes paid leave for family caregivers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska senator says the state should provide more resources and stability for caregivers who choose to provide in-home treatment for ailing family members or take leave to care for themselves.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced two bills Friday to support voluntary caregivers, calling families a critical part of a state's health care system. One measure would create an insurance plan for unpaid sick leave and the other would require hospitals to inform and demonstrate nursing tasks to a designated caregiver before a patient is discharged.

Crawford said 40 percent of America's workforce does not qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a family member, and only a fraction of those who do qualify can afford to take it.

"Current policies put too many workers in untenable positions: keep the jobs they need or care for the families they love," Crawford said.

Her measure would allow employees to purchase paid sick leave for up to eight consecutive weeks if caring for a sick family member or up to 12 weeks for an individual. It would cost about $2 a week through the state Department of Labor to get partial wages during leave, and employers would have to let employees to return to their jobs.

"With Nebraska's serious workforce shortages, we can't afford to have these workers sitting on the sidelines," she said.

While available to all caregivers, the leave would be most beneficial for women, especially new mothers, Crawford said. It would offer mothers up to 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth to heal emotionally and physically without the added pressure to return to work early.

Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, assistant professor of public health at University of Nebraska Omaha said mothers need 12 weeks after birth to adjust to breastfeeding, which has gained nearly unanimous support as essential for a child's overall health.

"For public health to tell women that breastfeeding is best for their babies, but not push for policies that would give new mothers the time to make it possible is simply unethical," Jawed-Wessel said.

Crawford's second measure would require hospitals to give more detailed instructions for in-home care to a designated caregiver before the patient is discharged. Currently, health professionals are not required to educate family members.

That bill is backed by Nebraska AARP, which in October released a poll that showed more than half of the state voters that are age 45 and older are current or former caregivers and 94 percent would like hospitals to better explain and demonstrate nursing tasks.

Suzy Campbell of Lincoln said she cared for her husband for 16 years after bladder cancer set off a slew of serious health issues. She said she was unprepared to assist her husband at home after nine surgeries, including a quadruple bypass. At one point, she tried using plastic wrap to cover a gaping wound from a kidney procedure; she said the nurse's only instruction was to "keep it dry."

"They didn't tell me, and I tried all kinds of things, but I'm not medically trained and I probably didn't know what questions to ask," she said.


The bills are LB849 and LB850.

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