Broward County — For the last three years, Peg Jensen has learned a lot about the frustration, anxiety, loneliness and stress experienced by those who care for friends or loved ones at home.Since 2014, she has been a specialist for the Nebraska Lifespan Respite Network. The NLRN was founded 18 years ago, “but it still amazes me how many people don’t know the service is out there,” she said.Jensen is spearheading the NLRN’s Kearney Days of Caring for the Family Caregiver: Back to the Basics program set for June 14 at First Presbyterian Church. The free event will cover respite care, changes in Medicaid, long-term care programs, legislative updates on medical care programs and much more. About 16 organizations will have resource tables. The day includes coffee, lunch and snacks and is open to all.

“Only a caregiver understands that going to the grocery store is like a mini-vacation, or what ‘running on empty’ really means,” Jensen said. “Even caregivers fail to understand that they need to get away for a bit. They are being pulled in so many directions.”

The event is being held on a Wednesday so it won’t interfere with families’ summer weekend plans, she said.From her office in Loup City, Jensen covers a region of 24 Nebraska counties, one of six regions in the NLRN. She said there are four or five respite caregivers in Kearney.

“Respite caregivers can come to the home so the caregiver can go to the grocery store or go have coffee or get their hair done, or parents of a disabled child can get out for dinner and a movie,” Jensen said. “Some families prefer to meet the caregiver in the mall, where the caregiver can stay while families go to the movies or to dinner.” Families work out those details with the respite caregiver, including compensation. Most respite caregivers earn between $10 and $12 an hour and arrange their schedules around a family’s needs. “They work as many hours as they want, sometimes in the evening, sometimes on weekends,” Jensen said

NLRN does background checks on all respite caregivers. “I assure people that if I wouldn’t send a caregiver to my mother’s home, I wouldn’t send them to your home,” Jensen said. Low-income families are often eligible for subsidies that can help pay for respite care.

Mandy Stieb of Loup City gave up her job as a medication aide five years ago to tend to her daughter Natalee, who has special needs. A respite caregiver comes for about 15 hours a month “to give me a break or allow me to run errands,” but it’s beneficial for Natalee, too, she said. “It lets my daughter get away from the house and do something fun. I am forever grateful for respite so I can recharge my mom battery and be the provider Natalee needs me to be.”

Jensen, a former elementary school secretary in Elba, understands the need for respite care, too. She she looks after for her mother, 90, who has Alzheimer’s. Her mother still lives alone at home, but Jensen is there frequently. Once a week, she and her mother come to Kearney to get pedicures and have their hair done. “It’s a day we enjoy,” she said. “I understand the need to get out of the house.”

The June 14 event will be patterned after the Day of Caring held in Hastings for the last 12 years. Others are planned this year in North Platte, Beatrice and Columbus. Jensen hopes the program in Kearney will become an annual event.

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