Lowinn Kibbey, the global head of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, talks about the challenges of modern leaders, as well as how they can balance workloads and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Imagine the death of a loved one, receiving a mental health diagnosis and, soon after, trying to be productive at work. This is exactly what happened to a hospital care manager. In her day-to-day job, she worked with individuals with eating disorders, but she found counseling patients difficult after the loss of her husband.
After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, this employee spent her husband’s last months at his side as he received treatment — rarely sleeping and struggling to cope. Soon after her husband died, the employee was diagnosed with acute grief reaction and adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. She sought help from a therapist and joined a grief group, but she was still unable to focus on her job. Counseling patients with eating disorders didn’t seem possible after she’d witnessed her husband’s weight loss during his treatment. Ultimately, this employee took leave from her job to deal with her grief and depression.
No matter the industry or company, employees struggling through health conditions are common workplace occurrences. It’s easy to have empathy for employees in these situations, but what can HR do to provide the right type of support?
First, it’s important to consider the whole person and understand how the complexity of these situations can impact employees. Multidimensional situations like the example above can lead to delayed recovery, or the lengthening of an employee’s medical condition, which can often hinder an employee returning to work. Delayed recovery can be caused by treatments not working as expected, comorbid (or multiple) conditions being present at the same time, financial concerns, complex family issues or child care or elder care concerns.
To help prevent delayed recovery and balance how to help employees either return to work or stay at work and be productive, employers should consider a comprehensive approach to disability management and use their disability carrier to help enforce it. This approach to disability management takes into account both physical and psychosocial issues that could affect employees’ recovery, proactively outlining how to identify and interact with employees, integrate treatment programs and, ultimately, improve outcomes across an organization.
1. Identify the person in need of assistance.
A comprehensive disability carrier should understand an employer’s organizational culture, integrate with the organization’s internal benefits team and help support HR managers in identifying employees in need of stay-at-work or return-to-work assistance.
In the example above, the employee was on disability leave when the disability carrier identified her as someone who could benefit from return-to-work assistance. The carrier recognized the complexity of her situation and her potential for delayed recovery and worked with her employer to proactively discuss how they could help.
2. Interact with the employee.
After reviewing the employee’s disability claim, a disability carrier consultant reached out to the employee, offering support for her return to work. Comprehensive disability carriers often have consultants available to engage an employee in conversation and better understand what factors may be contributing to a delay in their recovery. A consultant can openly talk with an employee to better understand the psychosocial issues that may be impacting them and consider the right resources.
During the conversation, the consultant learned that while the employee was in treatment, her primary care physician and therapist were not in communication with each other. This disconnect was causing the employee additional stress, as she was having to try and navigate the complexities of the health care system while trying to focus on her recovery.
3. Integrate programs to treat employees.
While a disability carrier can offer robust assistance to help an employee with a stay-at-work or return-to-work plan and accommodations, it also can integrate other benefit resources to help an employee get the full range of support they need. This can include partnering with services to help navigate the health care system during treatment or recovery through referrals to other benefits vendors, including disease management, wellness and employee assistance programs, if needed.
After identifying the disconnect between her physician and therapist, the consultant helped facilitate communication between the two providers with the employee’s permission. This was crucial as the specialists were confused as to who was responsible for releasing the employee to resume her job duties. To help the employee with the return-to-work process, the consultant requested necessary records from the physician and therapist and followed up with requests for the documentation to help keep the process moving and ensure the employee could resume work as planned.
4. Improve outcomes.
In the example above, the consultant helped to manage the complex process for the employee, who was better able to focus on her recovery. Ultimately, she was able to return to the job after just a few months.
A comprehensive approach that treats the whole person can help an at-risk employee stay at work and allow an employee with a disabling condition to return to work more quickly. Employer costs may be lowered when employees can return to work and when they are more productive at work upon their return.
With May being Disability Insurance Awareness Month and National Mental Health Month, it’s important to showcase how prevalent disabilities are in the workplace. It’s the perfect time for taking a critical look at disability insurance programs and ensure they are comprehensive. This kind of approach to disability management can address the diverse reasons that may influence or slow down an employee’s recovery process.
Jung Ryu is national accounts practice leader at The Standard, the marketing arm for StanCorp Financial Group Inc. To comment, email email@example.com.
Health care work needs a check-up.
An aging population and expanding health care coverage means there are more patients to care for, but the supply of workers is struggling to keep up. Additionally, some areas of specialty and nursing will soon see the providers retiring en masse.
This narrative of the talent shortage mirrors issues the broader workforce faces, but there are unique challenges to health care work.
The Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage of at least 40,800 physicians by 2030, but this could be as high as 104,900, according to their March press release.
Nursing, in particular, is feeling strained. As noted in Nursing Economic$’s “State of the Registered Nurse Workforce as a New Era of Health Reform Emerges,” registered nurses, or RNs, could see a 35 percent increase by 2030, but this will not be uniform in all areas of the United States as some rural areas already struggle to access care. One-third of nurses are baby boomers, who will retire by 2030, taking their knowledge with them.
The influence of these shortages is already being felt, and failure to repair the divide between supply and demand will likely be felt in industries outside of health care.
“As we see these shortages becoming more acute, it will affect not only the health care system, but it affects the health of a city or of a community,” said Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer at the Washington, D.C.-based AAMC, which is a membership organization and not-for-profit organization that administers the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.
“I think that health care is really one of the basic building blocks for a strong and economically viable community,” Orlowski added. “So you want to have housing; you want to have good schools; you want to have good health care.” Areas with poor or insufficient health care access aren’t as economically viable as those that have strong health care systems, Orlowski said. Health care is a basic structural need for a strong community, which includes the business community.
Problems With Providers
Shortages of health care workers lead to burnout for overworked physicians and nurses, as well as decreased health outcomes for patients, said Dr. Peter Alperin, vice president of connectivity solutions at San Francisco-based Doximity, a social network and directory for health care professionals.
To replace these workers takes time. “It’s not renewable in the same way as other jobs and professions are,” Alperin said. It can take two to four years to become a registered nurse or nurse practitioner and nine or more years to become a doctor or surgeon.
Licensing and credentialing provide another hurdle for those in health care. States manage their credentialing requirements separately, meaning that a doctor trained in one state would have to retrain in another, as well as become credentialed at a specific hospital. “That’s a big roadblock,” Alperin said.
Fortunately, there is work being done toward solutions to these issues.
Solutions to the Stress
First, some states are coming together to repair the credentialing issue, Alperin said. Creating a reciprocity of licensure can facilitate movement of doctors and nurses. Some states are also changing their laws so nurse practitioners can have prescribing capability and practice outside the supervision of a physician.
Second, technology is moving in to fill some of the talent gaps. Social networks and job search engines, such as Alperin’s Doximity, aim to connect candidates with the appropriate positions, Alperin said. Also, telehealth, or systems that connect doctors and patients online, helps remote communities have greater access to health care. Artificial intelligence will also disrupt the medical world, as this technology is likely to help with warning signs that a patient could soon be sick, Alperin said.
Similar to other businesses, freelancers help hospitals care for increased workloads, said Abigail Tremble, president of Randstad Healthcare, a health care staffing firm based in Atlanta. However, data can work to a hospital’s advantage. “The more proactively you can plan labor and workforce, the better off you are,” Tremble said.
Hospitals face higher talent costs when they have to employ a traveling, temporary medical staff or pay full-time workers overtime to meet patient needs. The more that these institutions can use data to recognize the patterns in patient flow, the better.
Also, hospitals can use a broader mix of talent, which could include a combination of full-time staff, travelers and contingent workers aiming for full-time employment, Tremble said. Contingent workers provide an opportunity to ensure that they’re a match to the organization, without the hospital having to commit too soon or if the budget isn’t available to bring them on full time.
“One pill to save all” is unrealistic, Tremble said. There needs to be a combination of solutions to meet staffing goals.
RELATED: Is the Skills Gap Real?
Graduation levels from nursing schools are rising, yet medical institutions feel pinched in finding experienced workers. “It begs the question: Is there really a shortage, or is there a shortage of nurses that already have two years of experience?” Tremble asked. Nurses can’t get jobs without experience, and hospitals need experienced workers.
“At some point, we’ve got to create some compromise,” Tremble said. As a result, hospitals should partner with local nursing schools and be more open-minded in hiring nurses with little experience. “If the talent pool doesn’t exist but the demand is there, we have to figure find a way to create the talent pool,” Tremble said. The way to do so is to bridge the gap between educational and medical institutions on the local levels.
Finally, health care policy needs to align to industry demands. There’s a delicate balance of managing patient flow, meeting patient needs and workers being reimbursed for their services. “We’ve got to get some stabilization around health care policy. There’s a lot that’s up in the air,” Tremble said.
In 1997, Congress capped the number of Medicare-funded medical residency slots at 1996 levels. However, this cap has not kept up with the demand for doctors, creating a bottleneck when physicians seek their residency. There’s a need and responsibility at local, state and federal government levels to participate and plan for an adequate physician workforce, AAMC’s Orlowski said.
Despite these challenges, medical school applications remain strong, Orlowski said. People still see this as a promising profession in which they can participate. “The future is bright for anyone who is interested in becoming a physician,” Orlowski said.
Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the Graduate Medical Education funding cap. The story has been updated.
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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