Anti-worker changes could be coming to Iowa workers compensation. To me the cruelest reform would be the proposal to end permanent total disability benefits at age 67 and limit workers who are over 67 who become permanently and totally disabled to 150 weeks of benefits. One memorable client of mine demonstrates the callousness of the proposed Iowa reforms.
My client Doris Newkirk was 83 years old when she was injured working as a hostess at Lone Star Steakhouse in west Omaha in June 2006. She was near a bathroom door when a large male co-worker came barreling into the bathroom and caused Doris to fall back and injure multiple parts of her body. Like many retirees, Doris worked because she needed the money. After her injury she was unable to work. Fortunately Doris was able to receive permanent total disability benefits to make up for the income she lost because she wasn’t able to work. Those permanent benefits started in September 2007 and continued for five years and 10 ½ months until her death on July 21, 2013.
If Nebraska law limited those injured over the age of 67 to 150 weeks of permanent total disability benefits, Doris wouldn’t have been paid anything for the last three years of her life. To her credit, Doris travelled from Omaha to Lincoln in her late 80s to testify against similar legislation when it was proposed in Nebraska. According the Business and Labor committee clerk at the time, the state Senator who introduced the bill at the behest of insurance interests made a motion to kill the bill after listening to her testimony.
I found a recent story from California very troubling. The nation’s largest assisted living company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle claims for underpayment and mistreatment of the workers who take care of the elderly. Lack of proper overtime pay, lack of mandatory meal and rest periods, and improper payment of mandatory training are examples of the mistreatment.
The victims were the least-paid workers who did the hardest physical labor, according to the story. These people who bathed, fed, and provided the most hands-on care for our frail, elderly loved ones were denied wages and overtime pay for 7 years, according to the terms of the settlement.
Care for the old, frail and disabled is big business. Nearly 750,000 people are receiving assisted living care, according to the ProPublica article. And the industry is just going to expand, as folks are sicker but have higher expectations for care, while also living longer, according to this article from NPR.
Fair treatment of our elders’ caregivers is essential. The wages are low, as most difficult jobs often are. Violating employment rules and statutes for businesses to save money and make larger profits seems particularly offensive for these workers. And they are not often protected from or informed of the hazards of their jobs, many of which can have serious consequences for workers’ health and well being, according to these blog posts from respected colleague Jon Gelman, an attorney in New Jersey: Protecting Healthcare Workers is a Goal of NIOSH and NIOSH Acts To Prevent Lifting Injuries For Home Healthcare Workers.
Congratulations to the workers and their representative who stood up to this very large employer that has around 500 facilities in the United States. It takes courage and tenacity to fight battles like this.
All of us who care about workers need to be aware that these are battle worth fighting. And that these battles can be won.
Growing old is a contact sport that is not recommended for the frail. Telling elderly parents that they no longer can drive may keep them and others safer, but almost always takes away both independence and control. So it’s a tough subject, even if there’s already been one or more minor car accidents involving a parent’s driving.
One of the common themes in many of these articles is to actually ride with your parents and notice if they have physical limitations or are slow to react to situations around them, keeping in mind that cues are usually more subtle than blatantly running a red light, although that may be one clue. Another theme is examining action tactics to figure out who actually approaches the person for the conversation and takes away the keys – suggestions include talking to both the doctor and a supervisor at the DMV to enlist them as allies.
There is an abundance of commentary on this subject to help you (and others who might need to) stage an intervention with your parents. Links below includes advice and tips about both discerning whether it’s time to have the conversation and more details about discussing no more driving and the potential aftermath.
“Aging Parents Driving: Answer the common question ‘How can I tell if my elderly parent should no longer be driving?’ Learn how to take the keys away from an aging mother or father. Find out how to deal with stubborn aging parents who think their driving is safe. Know the common signs that your parent should no longer be driving and where to turn for assistance.”
This next article has a checklist that helps determine whether it’s really unsafe for a parent to drive. And I think it also had some good advice from an official at the AARP: “We use the term ‘Prepare with your head and talk with your heart.’”
I thought that this next article was useful because Nebraska and Iowa, like California – where the author lives – have a lack of public transportation infrastructure, which is an even bigger problem in rural areas. As the story says, “It can be a tough thing to tell a parent. First, do some research. Second, choose your words carefully.”
This article uses checklists to explore the process of approaching a parent for this conversation. It also encourages empathy and challenges folks to consider what it would be like if they had to stop driving for even a short period of time and how their lives would be affected.
As a different approach, there are also support threads and websites out there that address an extremely large number of scenarios that come up with elderly parents, including the dilemma of taking away the keys. Here’s an example of one board with questions and answers that I thought was both respectful to the parents and also encouraged advocating for safety, even if that meant taking away the keys.
For further thought, even after having this particular conversation with your parents, keep in mind that someday someone will be having the conversation with you. Think about and reflect if you’d be ready – will you be receptive to a loved one’s concerns?