Alberta Health Services

Edmonton Mental Health Services

Dr. Verna Yiu, interim president and CEO of Alberta Health Services.Mental health issues comprise the most common reason why staff at Alberta Health Services go on long-term disability, a newly released document shows.

The AHS data, obtained by the Alberta Liberals through an access to information request, lists the top five reasons why various types of health workers are forced to go on disability from work.

Mental health was cited as the top cause for registered nurses and members of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents a variety of workers from paramedics and pharmacy technicians to occupational therapists and social workers.

Musculoskeletal problems, such as a back injury that might result from lifting a patient, was the second most common reason.

As for members of Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, whose members include licensed practical nurses, custodians and other support staff, the top two causes were reversed. Musculoskeletal injuries ranked first followed by mental illness.

Cancer, accidents and nervous system issues were also listed in the top five for all categories of workers.

Interim Liberal leader David Swann said the prevalence of mental illness as the leading reason why people take disability leave is partly due to the high-stress nature of health care, but can also be linked to ongoing turmoil at AHS. He noted recent years have seen at least a couple of internal reorganizations, the firing and resurrection of an AHS board and a high turnover of top executives.

“The rank and file don’t know where they are getting their direction, don’t know what power they have to make decisions, and there is ongoing ambiguity over who is in charge, ” he said. “Everyone gets frustrated because decisions take a long time, or inappropriate decisions get made. It increases stress and conflict in the system.”

Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said her organization has noticed an uptick in staff leaving work because of mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Acting AHS president Verna Yiu said the health authority believes anxiety, depression and other mental illness common among health workers can be linked to the stresses of caring for sick and injured people.

“We are quite concerned about that … and so we have been putting a lot of effort around our people support program.”

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she has asked AHS for more information on long-term disability and sick leave trends.

The statistics obtained by the Liberals show 472 registered nurses at AHS were on long-term disability last year. The health authority said that’s a small percentage because it has 17, 345 full-time equivalent registered nursing positions.

Employees can remain on long-term disability benefits for many months, and even years in some cases until they are declared medically able to work, hit age 65 or die. Under AHS agreements, nurses and other workers are entitled to receive two-thirds of their regular salary, but benefits stop after 24 months unless a worker is “totally disabled.”

Yiu said AHS has made some progress in reducing short-term sick leave among staff, after enrolling everyone in an attendance awareness program. Managers are asked to monitor staff sick time and follow up with employees when recurring and unexplained absences occur.

Source: edmontonjournal.com
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