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New Yorkers: In Their Own Words

Gwen, Coram

I needed leave time when my daughter had a brain aneurysm, and after surgery someone had to be home with her. Our sick leave policy is strictóweíre not allowed to use vacation time for being sick, and vice versa. Family Medical Leave is important, because your place at your desk is secured when you come back to work, but I have ended up using about 12 days without pay so far. When a loved one is sick, youíre torn between going without pay and taking care of your family. The hospital wouldnít release her unless someone was going to be home with her, because she had just had brain surgery.

Richard and Theresa, Plattsburgh

Theresa: My mother ended up in the hospital [last October], critically ill; she needed 24-hour care. This meant driving from my home in Champlain to Plattsburgh seven days a week.

Richard: Her mother got worse. [My father-in-law] found her mother lying on the hallway floor in the house in October, and he couldnít do it by himself. She canít really move; it takes 2 people to change her.

Theresa: I started work in December 2005, as a unit clerk at the local hospital 2 days a week, and [then] I needed a leave of absence [to care for my mother] as of April 1. My husband, who is our main breadwinner, works at Wal-Mart, so we have been unable to save money for any kind of emergency. Heís now working 2 jobs, but one of them is dependent on the weather.

Richard: I take care of the kids most of the time, so they have somebody home. At least I get home about an hour after they get home, and Iím with them all evening.

There really isnít enough money when bills come in and we can pay everybody. The children suffer, because they canít do even little things they want to do, because we donít have the money.

The girls say, How come were always so poor. I say, Iím doing the best I can.

Weíre always, you know, robbing Peter to pay Paul; next month, itís Peter first. Iím sure weíll get by. Iím sitting with a nearly empty fuel tank, and Iím waiting for the light to come on which says we donít have any fuel. Then Iíll be scrounging to get enough money for 15 gallons for kerosene to keep it going a little while longer. Iím thankful itís not winter. Iíd be saying to my kids, ďGet out the blankets and coats, girls.Ē

Joanne, Queens

When my children were younger, I was so caught up in all of this [the difficulties of taking time off without losing income] that when they called me to pick them up from school, I would tell my kids, ďYou canít get sick, I canít afford to take off from work!Ē  I found myself asking, which is more important, my job or my family?  Whereís my priority?  What is my choice? I have to go to work today or stay home and take care of my child. I stopped and asked myself, what are you doing?  I had to call and say, ďIím not coming in,Ē but there was just so much stress with that.

Rene, Brooklyn

My mother suffered from cancer, but I did not use the FMLA that was available because I would not have been able to pay my rent. If we donít get [paid family leave], we could lose our jobs, or end up on public assistance. People in my community need this, and we need our jobs. You need to get paid, so FMLA just isnít enough.

Vicky, Long Island

I have two children. In October í96 my 8Ĺ -year-old son was diagnosed with [cancer]. He was given, at best, a 20 percent chance of survival. I spent the next five years at Schneiderís Childrenís Hospital, living in and out of the hospital. My husband took the first two weeks after diagnosis in the hospital with us as his vacation time. He took the next three weeks off with no pay. After five weeks he had to go back to work.

It was devastating for me to be living in the hospital with my son alone, dealing with doctors and having to take care of my daughter at home. My husband went back to work. His concentration level was nil. He was sleep-deprived; he wanted to be in touch with the doctors. He had to go back to work, our bills were enormous.

The pharmacy bill, when we came home from the hospital, was $3,400. The first month in the hospital was $60,000. That was minus anesthesia, surgeries, and CAT scans and MRIs. Plus, we needed someone to take care of my daughter at home, and [my husband] would go back and forth to the hospital.

We both had to work. Upon diagnosis, my job told me I had to resign. I lost my position.

Mari, Hartsdale

My son was adopted from Russia... There was no assistance from my job to help pay the cost of the adoption, which eventually totaled $30,000 with traveling expenses. On top of that, I had to use my vacation time to complete the adoption and was only able to spend 4 weeks at home, two of which were unpaid. I returned to work gradually, but it greatly affected my ability to bond with my son.  There was no way after all the adoption costs that we could afford additional time home with no pay. 

Judith, New York City

My ex-husband has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after 9/11; [he] developed ulcerative colitis and got fired from his 17-year job at Chase Morgan Stanley Bank due to "inability to function in his position." Due to that fact, he was hospitalized twice, and needed 24/7 care for two weeks when he was discharged. I was unable to get paid leave, and suffered additional hardship, since I had to hire someone to take care of him above and beyond what the insurance company paid for a discharged patientóonly 4 hours per day for one week.

With the loss of his income, and my paying out extra expenses, the stress was too much for him. He eventually filed for divorce, believing that financially, I would be better off. We all suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of this in the long run, since he remains psychiatrically and physically unstable. He is presently under the care of the V.A. for his medical expenses and care in another state, and living below the poverty line.

Diane, Valley Stream

[When] my dad's liver cancer worsened, there were many medical appointments and 2 procedures, which required 4-5 day hospital stays each. Following the procedures was a period of recovery, which was longer for the 2nd procedure than for the first. It was also necessary to assist my mother with her regular medical and other appointments, which my dad was not able to do any longer. I needed to use approximately 10 weeks of FML until my father's passing. I was lucky enough to have moved back home with my parents a while ago, and so I did not have to worry about meeting certain expenses, which I would have had I continued to live on my own. I don't see how I could have utilized the FMLA if I had been living on my own.

 I used 10 weeks of my leave during a relatively short 6-month period of time. I had to take 4 weeks of leave with my mother because she got sick after he died. It would have been easier if I had been getting income during that time [February 2006]. She was hospitalized and then in rehab after that.... She needs support; she canít navigate prompts on a phone if you have to call someone. Life is very fast-paced for these old folks trying to navigate routine things, especially at times of a health crisis, it is very hard for them to do it alone.

She was really not ready for me to go back [to work after the FML leave], but I put some other supports in place. When I felt the time was right, I was able to withdraw myself. I knew what numbers to call to advocate for her by phone; I have copies of all the medical tests. I set up the structure of it and then I was able to pull out of it.

Affects on the job:

Itís taken some time to replace the other social workers [when thereís a vacancy at my job]. Thereís a whole training period. Thereís 13 different social workers, and each job is very distinct. It took me a year and a half till I knew my own floor, until I thoroughly understood the workings of my own unit; it just takes time, even to have the training when youíre pulled in to other units. Itís costly [to employers] in errors made.

Costs to health care:

If family members are not in there to be able to stabilize the situation, thatís more cost to the medical community; when that patient doesnít get better, they will probably need more services that they wouldnít have needed if the family member was home. It becomes more expensive when people are not getting as much care as maybe they need.

Aida, Brooklyn

My mom has loads of issues: high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and it all entails a lot of frequent doctor visits.  I have to use my own leave time to be able to run around with her to all of her appointments. [PFL] would help because I usually donít use my annual leave time because I know that I need to use it for my parents. I save it up not for vacation, but for personal issues related to taking care of my elderly mother.

Lori, Long Island

My father was diagnosed with cancer [in 1996] and I took 900 hours of family medical leave. I lost $10,000 in pay. I took it out of my BSP [business security plan], because at the end of all that, when it was all said and done, I knew he was going to die.

Well, at the end, there was Citibank, there was the mortgage company, there was LILCO, LIPA, there was New York Telephone, all wanting to get paid. And Iím going, I donít have it, I just took 900 hours of unpaid leave. They didnít want to hear it. So, with that, I took a withdrawal out of my business security plan and had to pay the State of new York, because they didnít take taxes out on it.

Devorah, Rosendale

Our daughter arrived 6 weeks early with a problem with her mitrovalve, a problem with her ear and a hole in her heart. She had surgery on her heart 3 hours after she was born. Most parents spend their first few days in the hospital with balloons and people visiting; we spent ours in the neonatal ICU unable to touch our child, who was having machines breath for her and wires everywhere and sticking our hands into gloves in her glass box. They saved our baby. We were very very lucky.

We had good insurance. But we ended up, by the time we walked out of the hospital with our baby, we had spent an additional $30,000 out of pocket. Finally, at about 6 months old we got a diagnosis; Bethany was paralyzed on her right side. Apparently she had had a stroke when I was carrying her

There were times when we couldnít pay our bills. I donít mean we couldnít pay our bills; I mean we didnít pay our bills. We didn't pay the gas company or the oil company or the phone company. If there was a choice between prescription drugs and groceries, we bought prescription drugs. If there was a choice between groceries and the phone bill, we went without a phone.

It took us almost 2 years to get her to a reasonable level; she walked just after her 2nd birthday; she still couldnít sit without falling over; she still couldnít eat or drink normally. But she got better.

And itís taken us 6 years to dig our way out of the financial hole that this dumped us into.

About two years ago my mother had a stroke, my father was 90. I was working for a synagogue. My father needed to come to live with us, my mother needed to go into the hospital. There was no problem with my taking time off. We were able to deal with my mother, move my father, get our lives together, hire a nurse.