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Region helps injured employees return to work

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BY SUSIE STRACHAN
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, September / October 2010

Knowing there's a safety net under you when you are recovering from injury or illness is a wonderful feeling for any employee fearing they might lose their job.

Maureen Kosa knew that feeling when she knew she could no longer keep up with the physical demands of being a nurse on the rehabilitation ward at Deer Lodge Centre.

She had been working as a licensed practical nurse for 30 years when arthritis in her right knee and back started causing her difficulties. She had worked at Health Sciences Centre on the spinal cord floor, and then in geriatric rehabilitation. In 1992, she was redeployed to Deer Lodge on the rehabilitation floor.

Kosa was having trouble with bedside work, when lifting and shifting patients, and even when walking from room to room on the ward.

"My knee got down to the bone-on-bone stage, and I simply couldn't work due to the pain," she says, adding she ended up on disability leave for a year, while waiting for total knee replacement surgery. After the surgery at Concordia General Hospital, she spent another eight months recovering.

"I had physio right up to the surgery, and then again afterwards, doing exercises and working on a stationary bike. I had to use a walker to get around for the first month," she says. "I was lucky to have a friend stay with me for three weeks, to help me with things around the house, and to help drive me to appointments."

She returned to work after surgery, taking part in a Graduated Return to Work program. The Winnipeg Health Region supports the practice of bringing employees back to work as soon as they are medically able. "The Region is gradually rolling out a new operational procedure, which requires all management to notify us when an employee has been on sick leave for two weeks," says Gayle Hryshko, who is Manager of Disability Management with the Region's Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Department.

The Region works with the employee as a team to identify how best to help them recover from injury or illness, return them to meaningful employment and design a plan for recovery specific to their medical needs or any medical restrictions they may have. "We work to find ways to keep our employees in the work force," says Hryshko. "This might include a graduated and progressive return to work, until they are able to work a full day. It might mean modifying the job, if the person cannot do all aspects of it. Or it might mean finding an alternate position."

The latter is what happened to Kosa. She made a graduated return to work on the rehabilitation ward, but found it was too hard on her. Her director of nursing suggested she apply for an administrative position, and, with the aid of her union, to her surprise and joy, she got it.

Today, she's the Region's Rehabilitation and Geriatric Central Wait List co-ordinator. The job entails finding appointments for patients from acute care who need to enter rehabilitation.

"When I started, I had no keyboarding or computer skills. I was given training in that, and also a counsellor to help me make the transition," she says. "Seventy per cent of my new job is talking to people on the phone, making connections. When I started, I was worried people might put one over on me, but I'm more assertive now, making sure they've filled in the paperwork correctly. The fact I have the new job is a great relief to me. It keeps me in a place I love to work."

The Region's Return to Work plan considers the abilities and limitations of the employee with a physical or mental disability, balanced with the Region's responsibility to manage and to meet its daily operational requirements. "For example, a nurse might have a health-related need for accommodation. We might look at another job that uses the nurse's abilities, and if they are physically unable to do that, we might put them into an administrative position," says Hryshko.

The Region works with the Workers Compensation Board and various private insurance companies. Region employees requiring treatment or assessment from a physician or other health-care professional as a result of work-related injuries must report their injuries to the Workers Compensation Board. They also need to provide a medical note to their employer detailing their restrictions, and need that documentation to continue when they are ready to return to a modified work schedule.

"There are approximately 700 workers right now in the program," says Hryshko. "No two individuals are alike, in terms of circumstances, so our disability case managers have to consider each case on its own merit in order to have the person return to work to the best of their abilities."

Wave

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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