State Legislator Stands Up for Family Caregivers While Battling Cancer

Sen. Debbie Smith and Barry Gold of AARP Nevada

Sen. Debbie Smith and Barry Gold of AARP Nevada

Let me start by saying, thank you State Sen. Debbie Smith (Nev.) for your leadership, courage and determination to fight for family caregivers and the older parents, spouses and other loved ones they help to remain in their homes.

When Sen. Smith first talked to AARP about the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, she cared for her mom. By the time the bill passed the state legislature, Sen. Smith needed a caregiver herself, as she battled cancer.

The CARE Act helps family caregivers when their loved one goes into the hospital and as they transition home. One of the 40 million Americans helping a loved one to remain at home, Sen. Smith knew firsthand how this legislation could help. But when she was hospitalized with a brain tumor, she quickly realized just how much the CARE Act meant to her personally and the tangible difference it could make for patients — and family caregivers.

Due to this serious illness, Sen. Smith had to miss several weeks of Nevada’s legislative session — including the committee markup for the CARE Act. But this didn’t stop her from writing to her colleagues to endorse the bill. It was approved unanimously and signed into law on April 10. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Last week at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit, I was proud to be there when Barry Gold of AARP Nevada recognized Sen. Smith as an AARP Capitol Caregiver for her hard work and dedication to supporting family caregivers. In her remarks following the award presentation, Smith thanked her own family caregivers: “This award means the world to me, but this award should go to my family who has taken care of me all these months.”

Smith’s story shows how family caregiving is an issue that can affect us all. If you’re not a caregiver now, you were one in the past, you’ll likely be one in the future — or you’ll need care yourself. The unpaid care that family caregivers provide — helping their loved ones with bathing and dressing, meals, transportation, and more complex medical tasks like injections and wound care — is valued at an estimated $470 billion annually, according to a new AARP report, “Valuing the Invaluable.” To put this number in perspective, it’s more than the annual total Medicaid spending ($449 billion), or the sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies, Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft, combined!

That’s why AARP is fighting for commonsense solutions to make big responsibilities a little bit easier for family caregivers. In the 2015 legislative session — with help from caregivers like Sen. Smith — we’ve been fighting for the CARE Act as well as:

  • Employee leave so family caregivers don’t have to worry about losing their pay — or losing their jobs — when they have to take time off work to bring their older loved one to a doctor’s appointment
  • Respite care that allows family caregivers to take a hard-earned break
  • Allowing nurses to have the full authority to heal
  • Helping family caregivers navigate financial challenges by making sure power of attorney and adult guardianship laws are consistent and honored from state to state
  • Making sure caregivers have access to the right resources in the community, like home care and adult day care

Follow me on Twitter @RoamTheDomes for more on family caregiving across the states. To stay up to date on our advocacy in the states, sign up for the AARP Advocates e-newsletter or visit your state Web page.


Elaine Ryan is the vice president of state advocacy and strategy integration (SASI) for AARP. She leads a team of dedicated legislative staff members who work with AARP state offices to advance advocacy with governors and state legislators, helping people 50-plus attain and maintain their health and financial security.