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Now more than ever, Minnesotans need paid family and medical leave

Taking time off to care for your parent or other loved one should not mean losing your job or pay.

Assisted living
REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

My 25-year caregiving journey for my parents – proud Minnesotans and first-generation Indian American immigrants – started in 1998. At only 28 years old, my life shifted when my father was diagnosed with early onset dementia. A few years later, our situation escalated when my mother’s cancer re-emerged, and her cardiac and lung conditions worsened. Our Indian community was unclear about how to support dementia, advanced cancer and lung issues at home, and unaware of how elder care gets managed.  You see, many immigrants in my parents’ era did not get to see their own parents grow old in real time.  So, before I knew it, I became my parents’ caregiver, and they became my dependents.

Like many caregivers, I quickly had to reorganize my career priorities to help our family face our new reality. As an only child who worked full time, I juggled caregiving and career building. It was clear to me that no one should have to choose between caring for a loved one or losing their paycheck or a job. The Minnesota Legislature must now act to pass the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (HF2; Richardson/SF2; Mann).

Years after my father died, my mother and I lived together until she passed away last year. I worked remotely for over two years, struggling to care for her while we sheltered in place due to the pandemic. Finding vaccinated, masked and paid home health workers to help me was difficult. I finally had no choice but to take a long-term leave of absence.

These decisions to prioritize care over several years come with significant tradeoffs. With no siblings or partner, I struggled for decades to protect my own income, health insurance and retirement savings. I cobbled together limited time and flexibility to keep my career afloat while translating doctor calls, navigating business travel, clearing up family confusion, and making critical financial decisions.

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Many of my employers were compassionate but also struggled while trying to do their best to support me. For years, I managed our situation across cultures and languages, and a rubrics cube of benefit plans and time off policies. Early in my career, when I was pressured to prioritize work over family, I would have to remind my managers that FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) existed to protect my job. Later in my career, I received much greater support from companies who knew caregiving was part of my story. I know this flexibility is not given to many caregivers who work.

Taking time off to care for your parent or other loved one should not mean losing your job or pay. A Paid Family and Medical Leave program would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member, bond with a new child, or for a worker’s own serious health condition. With only 13% of workers having access to paid family and medical leave through their employers, far too many have to choose between their families and their pay – or even their jobs.

Paurvi Bhatt
Paurvi Bhatt
We all know a selfless mother, daughter, sister, niece, or cousin who made the sacrifice to care for a loved one. That sacrifice comes at a cost. Women, particularly women of color, assume family care responsibilities so quickly, and so often, without support. When we step into care, we step out of the workforce without pay and deliver care without reimbursement. Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system – a system that cannot continue to rest on each family figuring out care on their own, without help. FMLA alone is not enough to keep families strong while they face these challenges.

Minnesota leads the way with world-class health systems, incredible global companies, and the largest healthcare payers in the world. We must join the world and provide paid family and medical leave for public and private sector workers. It’s time to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave. Our diverse tapestry of Minnesotans who care for their loved ones are counting on it.

Paurvi Bhatt, is a healthcare executive, immigrant daughter and former caregiver living in Plymouth.