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As Crisis Drags On, WI Caregiver Advocates Ask for State Support

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COVID-19 continues to ravage Wisconsin, and it's not just hospitals pleading for extra help and for residents to embrace safety protocols.

Advocates for caregivers, especially those assisting loved ones, are asking state leaders to provide more support.

Helen Marks Dicks, advocacy director of state issues with AARP Wisconsin, noted the state has nearly 600,000 unpaid family caregivers.

She remarked the number is likely growing because some families are opting to keep older relatives out of nursing homes during the pandemic, and said it creates added stress for those who have become unsung heroes, both before and after the crisis evolved.

"And they don't even see themselves as heroes," Dicks stated. "They see themselves as good daughters, or good spouses, or good friends."

Dicks also sits on the Governor's Task Force on Caregiving, which issued a series of recommendations in September; one of them a $1,000 income tax credit for family caregivers.

State tax revenue has taken a hit during the crisis. Dicks admitted that might make the plan a tough sell, but she stressed in the long run, it can help Wisconsin's budget because it keeps older residents out of facilities, reducing the need for subsidies.

November is National Family Caregivers Month.

Another recommendation isn't tied to state finances: It calls on hospitals to provide training for a family caregiver, such as Medicare management, prior to them being discharged.

Dicks said the measures can give a much-needed boost to those who feel like they're doing it all on their own.

"Caregivers are feeling terribly, terribly isolated and very overwhelmed," Dicks explained.

She added things are made worse by the fact support groups can't meet face to face right now.

Key sponsors of these proposals have won re-election, providing hope these bills will get strong consideration.

Last fall, AARP conducted a statewide survey, showing nearly nine in ten registered Wisconsin residents over the age of 40 supported the tax credit plan.

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