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Pandemic-related healthcare challenges causing more employees to go on long-term disability leave

Wed, 08/03/2022 - 12:52

As the full-blown phase of the pandemic subsides, it’s leaving challenges in its wake

Three healthcare challenges in particular are causing more and more employees to go on long-term disability leave:

  1. An increase in mental health problems
  2. Diagnostic and treatment backlogs resulting in some diseases being caught later when they are harder to treat
  3. Long COVID

Consider the case of Paul*

Paul appeared to have everything: a well-paying job, a healthy family, a nice home. No one at work knew he had attempted suicide when he was younger. When he went on long-term disability leave for depression, people were shocked and dismayed.

In the weeks before we met Paul, he had gone to his doctor and was given medication and a referral to a psychiatrist—but the waiting list was long. Paul felt worse over time and finally went to the hospital.

There, he was admitted to a seven-day psychiatric program. At time of discharge, the doctor said he was not yet ready to return to work. 

Before our initial telephone interview, we asked Paul to complete our proprietary questionnaire, which we developed with experts at The Claim Lab. We send this questionnaire to each individual who goes on long-term disability, to quickly and systematically gain a more complete picture of their lives—including non-medical factors that may be influencing the disability leave. The particular strength of the questionnaire is that it helps us identify factors affecting an absence that may not be reported in the claim form. Our questionnaire revealed that Paul’s life was far from rosy: his wife had recently asked for a divorce; he was seriously overextended financially; and he was feeling totally overwhelmed at work. There was simply too much stress in too many areas of his life. Paul couldn’t see a way forward.

Paul wanted to get back to work but felt completely flattened

In our first telephone interview, Paul stated he wanted to get back to work but felt completely flattened. We asked our in-house medical consultant to review Paul’s case, and they recommended Paul start online

cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) right away. We also invited Paul to take a pharmacogenomics test, to help him and his doctor understand which antidepressant might work best. Since Paul’s benefits plan included an employee assistance program (EAP), we suggested he call the EAP to discuss his financial and marital challenges. Paul loved the idea of the pharmacogenomics test because he felt his medication wasn’t making him feel better. He also called his EAP to access the financial and legal counseling offered.

Our medical consultant agreed that a hasty return-to-work might prove unsustainable and recommended a cognitive assessment which was arranged by our return-to-work coordinator. The recommendations from this assessment included a cognitive work-hardening program. The pharmacogenomics test results also came back from the lab. Paul shared the results with his doctor and changed his medication. Within a month, he was feeling better.

Everyone agreed a gradual return to work would be helpful, and we continued to provide LTD support through this phase. Our claim manager checked in with Paul and his employer during the gradual return to work phase and was pleased to hear that Paul was doing well—he was practicing the skills he had learned from iCBT, working through his non‑medical issues, and adapting well to work life again.

Paul made a full recovery and returned to his pre‑disability job and income, full time. In our last telephone call, Paul thanked our claim manager for her support.

Mental health resources to help plan members—and the right disability management tools to manage the increased volume of claims

While we can’t stop the rising tide of claims, we can make sure we have mental health resources to help plan members proactively manage their health—and the right disability management tools to deal with the increased volume of claims. Our expert team ensures that people on leave receive effective support. 

The sooner a person returns to work—even part time—the greater the likelihood they will return to full time employment.

In every business, employees make a big impact. 

When just one employee can’t work, the consequences are real and immediate.

Our disability management experts make sure they receive the support they need, when they need it. 

*This story is based on a claim Empire Life managed. The name of the individual and selected details have been altered to protect their identity.