B380 Breakfast: Policies vital to worker time off

Panel advises on managing long-term workplace absences

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CEDAR RAPIDS — As cases of diabetes and heart disease continue to rise, employers need to do more than just manage health care costs — they also need to manage their employees dealing with long-term critical illnesses in the workplace.

That was one of the issues discussed during The Gazette’s Business 380 Business & Breakfast panel at Mercy Medical Center’s Hallagan Education Center Thursday morning. The most important point: Have a policy in place and communicate with employees.

“Employers shouldn’t say, ‘Oh great, fine, what am I going to do when you’re gone?’ That’s a huge mistake,” said Linda Reedy, MRA human resources manager and a member of the Society for Human Resources Management.

“If an employee comes in and says, ‘I need time off,’ ask how much. ... Employers make a lot of mistakes by not asking questions and making it to be a problem.”

It’s important for employers and human resource departments to get the illness certified by a doctor, she added. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees have a right to 90-days leave, Reedy said, but some smaller employers do not have to comply with FMLA, That’s why it’s important to have a policy in place and information available to employees through a handbook.

“Then you ask, how can I accommodate them? What are things I can do to get them healthy and come back?” she said.

Dr. Robin Barnett, Mercy Cedar Rapids, said she often is asked to confirm diagnoses. But it’s key for physicians to have conversations with patients to find the root of the illness, which may be more mental than physical, she said.

“Patients will come in and know the words to say,” she said. “It’s important to confirm — there’s a pain in their back? Is it a stress of anxiety issue that cascades into back pain, headaches, obesity, heart attacks, high blood pressure? In reality, it could be another issue — trouble at home or at work.”

In cases in which there is serious surgery or illness, it’s important for the insurance company and providers to coordinate and create a plan that includes transitioning the patient from the hospital into either skilled nursing care, home health care or provide other necessary services after discharge, said Dr. Tim Gutshall, vice president chief medical officer, executive vice president of health care, innovation and business development at Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“The worst thing you want as employer, when you have someone out, is to say, ‘Wow, he had a severe problem going on, and the health care system dropped getting them to the next level of care,’ so instead of being out X number of weeks they’re out X plus Y number of weeks,” Gutshall said.

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