Traumatic Injury Rehabilitation: Rebuilding Injured Employees’ Lives

July 1, 2019 • Missouri Employers Mutual

Since opening its doors in 1958, countless numbers of injured workers have passed through the doors of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals. Patients who come to Madonna have suffered life-changing injuries that affect both their work and personal lives. This means workers who face a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury or have even lost a limb to amputation. Professionals at Madonna know that when it comes to traumatic injury rehabilitation, even the smallest success can mean the world to a patient. Each day, they work on restoring injured workers’ lives that have been forever changed by an on-the-job incident.

Listen to this interview on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.

As an early leader in specialized care, Madonna serves the community with two not-for-profit hospitals located in Nebraska. They provide a full continuum of care, and often take on the worst and most severe cases. Shawn Wills, Director of Sales at Madonna, works to raise awareness about their services and comprehensive approach. He described the team’s approach: “Who was this person before their injury and how do we get them back?”

Decisions about treatment after an injury can impact both patients and families for years to come. The hospital uses a physical, mental, and spiritual approach to treat not just injured workers, but their loved ones as well. In terms of medical complexity, Madonna is in the top 1% in the nation. They are also in the top 4% of returning injured workers back to their community – not to nursing homes or other hospitals. Patients leaving Madonna either return home or move on to a facility that allows more independence.

Providing education on traumatic injuries

Many of America’s employers have never had an injury happen in their workplace. Even fewer know about traumatic injuries or how they are treated. The best way to prepare for a traumatic injury is to have a plan in place. Where can your injured employee seek care? How can you support them? “It’s good to know what’s out there and how you can help your employee when it happens. That’s something to keep in mind,” Wills explained.

Madonna provides opportunities for employers and insurance professionals to learn more about traumatic injuries. Their webinars and speaking engagements focus on making sure they give proper attention to every injury – even the ones that seem small. Mild traumatic brain injuries, which commonly result from a slip or fall in the workplace, could have consequences beyond just a concussion. “Most people go back to work right away,” Wills pointed out, “but you have this ‘miserable minority’ that struggle with depression, sleep depravity, are unable to focus, and we’re going to work with your team on ways to help manage those claims when they come forth.”

How to prepare for a workplace injury

Even if an employer has never experienced an injury on the job, no workplace or industry is exempt from a potential incident. Prevention is the first and most important step you can take. Educate employees on best practices by holding regular safety meetings. Written safety rules help keep them accountable for working safely on the job. Enforce these safety rules and have a firm disciplinary policy for employees who don’t follow them.

Employees working with hazardous equipment should be trained on its safe operation and use, such as with:

Keep first aid kits on all job sites, including company work vehicles, common areas and break trailers. Make sure a phone is always accessible, so someone can call 911 in the event of an emergency. Employees should know where first aid kits and phones are kept.

In the event of a traumatic injury or emergency, call 911 immediately. In case of non-emergency injuries, call our 24/7 nurse triage line. The policyholder and injured worker will speak with a registered nurse who can evaluate an injury to determine immediate medical needs.

Medical professional examines a patient's leg

Life at Madonna: Breaking down barriers to better care

Many injured employees don’t know where to go to get the best care. Most typically listen to their doctor’s suggestions. Although doctors can provide expert care, recovery after a traumatic injury is a long-term commitment. According to Wills, any patient can recognize when they aren’t hitting their goals in the rehabilitation process.

Madonna breaks down barriers that might keep an injured worker from getting treatment. Rehab facilities like it aren’t always available locally. Some employees and their families need to travel to get there. “It’s not just that person that’s injured, it’s that family that’s injured,” Wills said. “They’ve got a lot of things going through their mind.” Madonna offers free family housing for the first 30 days to help ease the transition.

The average stay for a patient at Madonna varies, but Wills can give a rough estimate based on the injury. Employees with traumatic brain injuries typically stay around 32 days, while those who have had a spinal cord injury spend around 60 days. The amount of time depends on the severity of the injury. Spinal cord injuries often take longer to rehab; there are more skills for patients to learn and re-learn.

Focusing on the employee’s family is a priority for Madonna. Families are impacted almost as much as their injured loved one. Madonna takes a holistic approach to address everyone’s needs and concerns. “We’re not just rehabbing that patient… we’re also rehabbing that family,” Wills said. “A lot of times we incorporate that family within the rehab.” When patients get close to their discharge date, they are set up in a mock apartment. There, family members can practice caring for their loved ones with on-call assistance nearby.

How to support an injured worker

When you have a worker who is injured on the job, make sure to check in with them – or their family – regularly. This may mean making a phone call once or twice a week or setting aside time to visit them at home or in the hospital. Check in with them after medical appointments to better understand their treatment and recovery plan.

Success story: Treating Roger Richards

When Roger Richards first came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, his future seemed bleak and uncertain. Richards had been working on a high ladder as a heating and air-conditioning technician when he was attacked by a swarm of wasps. After a backward fall of nearly 20 feet, he landed on his head, later slipping into a coma. A quick assessment led to the decision to take him to Madonna, where he could receive better traumatic injury rehabilitation options.

“One thing about Madonna is that we have the full continuum of care,” Wills added. The hospital provides both acute care, the short-term medical response to injuries, and long-term acute care (LTAC), where patients receive more focused attention for severe injuries. “When a patient comes to Madonna, they can start right away at ground zero. We can bring them from the ICU into our LTAC level of care, where they can do about one hour a day of therapy and then move their way through the continuum.”

Richards came to Madonna in a coma and dependent on a ventilator. After working his way up to four hours of rehabilitation per day, he was moved to acute rehab. There, he could have occupational therapy, speech therapy, and meet regularly with a neuropsychiatrist. Today, he’s able to walk, talk with his 13-year-old son and even perform maintenance activities.

Practicing for work re-entry at Madonna

An important part of the rehab process at Madonna is returning workers back to their normal life, and if they can, back to work. The hospital has created a Work Re-Entry Program, where patients can practice their previous job skills. For Richards, this meant helping out the hospital’s maintenance crew. Under supervision, Richards helped change lightbulbs and gained the confidence to work on ladders again.

Others, including a former state Senator and a hairdresser, successfully returned to work after participating in the Work Re-Entry Program. Wills recognizes the value of helping patients practice those skills. Depression and self-esteem can play a major role in the recovery process. Many injured workers are the breadwinners in their families, and an on-the-job incident can take them out of that role. The experience they get at Madonna can help them gain confidence. “Right away they get that sense of pride,” Wills says. “Like ‘My God, I’m working again. This is great. Maybe I can go home and start working again.”

Madonna can also determine if a patient is able to go back to work. They define how many days per week a patient can work, and what kind of tasks they can do. Partnering with employers helps them better understand how to return employees to their jobs.

How to help an injured employee return to work

Creating a return to work program for your workplace is the best way to get employees back on the job. Not only does it reduce claims costs, but it also gives injured workers a better outcome. A challenge that many employers face is over-eager employees, who want to come back to work shortly after an injury. However, getting back on the job before complete recovery can often make an injury worse.

Some employers think that adjusting work duties or the environment for employees isn’t worth the cost, but Wills is quick to disagree. “Seventy percent of the cost for accommodating somebody at work is really five hundred dollars or less.” Wills said. “And another twenty percent cost zero.” Bringing employees back to work not only helps them feel included with their fellow workers but also helps with their rehab.

Work together with your employee to create a plan for them to return to work. Transitional duty, made of up lighter tasks, helps integrate employees back into the workplace. This may include:

  • Organizing or taking inventory of supplies
  • Answering phones or greeting visitors
  • Filing or other administrative duties

You can also modify existing job duties to allow for a smoother transition. Providing these options to the doctor can help them determine when your employee can return to work.

Supporting injured workers and rebuilding lives

At Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, it may take the injured worker a little longer to go back to work – but the goal is still to get them there. Wills encourages employers to look at all the treatment options before making any quick decisions about an employee’s care. Support the injured worker – and their family – as they make their recovery.

For more information on Madonna and their services, visit their website. You can access dozens of safety resources, including sample safety policies and more podcasts, in our online resource center.

July 1, 2019
Missouri Employers Mutual
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