Commentary: When the unexpected happens

November 8, 2021 5:50 am
A person in a hospital bed receives a pill from a medical worker

Non-COVID-19 patients who put off care for illnesses during the pandemic are showing up at hospitals in large numbers and much sicker than they would be had they gotten care. (Getty Images)

One day I was at work, and the next my world was upended when we found out my husband didn’t just have a headache, he had a brain tumor. There is simply no way to plan for such unexpected situations.

When a health crisis happens, we drop everything to be with that family member who needs support to manage the emergency. It could be that your dad had a stroke or your teenager got in an accident. This is what family life delivers: the unexpected.

And that is what makes it so difficult for me to understand why our American leaders don’t understand the need for paid family leave.

Since the 1970s, our economy has relied on women in the workplace. Most families need two incomes to pay the bills and offer any kind of a future. Low-income and minority women have always had to work to add income to the family. Single-parent homes struggle mightily to support their children. So when a medical emergency happens, someone has to be able to step away and meet the need without losing their job or income in the process. The extended family can sometimes help, but many of those grandparents and uncles have moved away and aren’t an option for backup care.

The truth for many families is that parents want to work and provide for their families. They are healthier and happier when they can do so. But the workplace needs to be able to provide flexibility and some breathing room to reduce the stress the family is dealing with. That can be a challenge for employers with small operations or limited office staff. Programs like paid family leave are intended to set the framework for both the businesses and the workers, so everyone knows ahead of time the cushion available if a crisis occurs.

More “Hiring” signs across the nation will come down when our political leaders and workplaces recognize the at-home needs of workers, because we all have families. And like me, we end up in the emergency room holding their hand.

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Elizabeth Corell
Elizabeth Corell

Elizabeth "Zib" Corell lives in Concord and serves on the board of the N.H. Women’s Foundation.