After a Disability, a Return-to-Work Advocate Helps

When a medical emergency turns life upside down

By Mary Malone, The Standard March 1, 2011

A 48-year-old machine operator had spent his career in production. One day at work he passed out on the production room floor. He was resuscitated by paramedics and rushed to the hospital. He woke up in critical care having just undergone a bypass surgery and pacemaker insertion. It was a bad day at the office to say the least, and certainly not what anyone plans.

The employee had a long road to recovery ahead. He loved what he did and his co-workers were like family and his primary support system, but he wondered what it would take to return to work.

The answer: appropriate medical care, a good communication system and an advocate.

The Importance of an Advocate

Anyone who has either gone through a medical experience or been through one with a family member or friend knows how critical it is to have an advocate to assist them through the medical arena. The claimant felt like he was caught in the middle. He wanted cardiac rehabilitation so he could return to a job that required physical strength and stamina but was told he did not need it.

That’s where his advocate from his company’s return-to-work program stepped in. Calls from the advocate to his cardiologist established a game plan:

  • Initial work on his treadmill at home.
  • Referral to pain management to address sternal (chest) pain.
  • Three months of cardiac rehab.

Appropriate Medical Care

However, the employee's recovery hit a roadblock. He developed a sudden shortness of breath while speaking to a nurse case manager at The Standard — a possible symptom of a complication. After going to the emergency room for a thorough evaluation, adjustments were made to his blood pressure medication, resolving his symptoms.

A Communication System is Key

The next road block? The employee was released by his cardiologist to return to work with the restriction that he had to stay two arms lengths away from an electromagnetic field on the production room floor. There were obvious concerns about his returning to work.

The employee’s return-to-work coordinator took the following steps:

  • Contacted his cardiologist’s office for clarification on the restrictions.
  • Set up a conference call with the on-site safety coordinator at the production plant, the employee’s supervisor, the company’s HR representative and a specialist from the pacemaker manufacturer. The group reviewed a tool that could measure electromagnetic fields.
  • Testing was done and the results were again reviewed with the pacemaker manufacturing specialist.

After this collaborative effort, the employer gave clearance for return to work and the employee was back in the production room six months later.

By following the appropriate medical care, keeping the lines of communication open and establishing an advocate early on, the end result was win-win for everyone involved.

Mary Malone, RN, BSN, CPDM, is the medical return-to-work lead and implementation manager for the Workplace Possibilities program, which focuses on return-to-work issues at The Standard, a provider of insurance, retirement services and advice. She is a contributor to The Standard's Workplace Possibilities blog, from which this article is adapted with permission (see terms of use).

The Standard is a marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. and subsidiaries. Insurance products are offered by Standard Insurance Company of Portland, Ore. in all states except New York, where insurance products are offered by The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York of White Plains, N.Y. Investment services are offered through StanCorp Investment Advisors of Portland, Ore. Product features and availability vary by state and company, and are solely the responsibility of each subsidiary.

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