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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 2, November/December 2003

Ten years of rehabilitation

by Elizabeth MacKenzie

The BCTF Teacher Rehabilitation Program, offered by the Salary Indemnity Plan, is entering its tenth year of operation for the teachers of British Columbia.

The 2003 BCTF AGM received a report from the independent firm of AON Consulting. AON surveyed members and presidents in the program and audited the data. There was a high level of satisfaction with services provided and value to individuals.

Major issues raised by the participants, and AON’s recommendations on those issues are outlined below:

1. The Teacher Rehabilitation Program is known to the local presidents, the school district officials, and other designates, but it may not be universally known among teachers prior to participation in the program. One member suggested the following: "Give more information to make it known that this program exists. I heard about the program from a friend I was sharing my fears with (she happened to be a staff rep and directed me to get more info)."

Recommendation: Launch a communication campaign on the Teacher Rehabilitation Program and make it known that members may do self-referrals.

2. In the eyes of the disabled teacher, the rehabilitation counsellor plays the lead role, and there is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of the rehabilitation counsellor and the member’s perception of the program. Most (86%) of the participants expressed satisfaction with their rehabilitation counsellor. A member writes: "My rehab counsellor was tremendously supportive and provided me with a ‘voice’ that I was unable to do myself." Another appreciated the support: "My counsellor helped me enormously by listening, encouraging, breaking down daily tasks into small manageable portions. She never expressed doubts about me or my ability to overcome or be well and happily working again."

Recommendation: Secure further improvement on rehab counselling services; continue to run training seminars for all the counsellors with the Teacher Rehabilitation Program; implement and monitor performance measures for the counsellors.

3. A high percentage (78%) of respondents to the survey agreed that the program is effective in returning people to work. Gradual work re-entry and classroom follow-ups were greatly appreciated by those who returned to work. One member responded, "the best thing she (rehabilitation counsellor) did for me was to introduce me to the phased back to work progress. I love teaching and would have been devastated not to be able to return to work, but I had never been able to start full time."

Recommendation: Continue with the existing return-to-work model for teachers.

4. Teachers agreed that the services were appropriate to their needs. One member replied to the survey that, "The rebab counsellor assisted me with all aspects including talking to my AO so I didn’t have that additional stress. The equipment I needed to return was in the classroom when I returned and my gradual return plan had already been negotiated." Some members responded that they would like peer support groups to assist in working though their illness; others expressed concern about the confidentiality of the process.

Recommendation: Set up peer support groups and communicate them clearly to members. Ensure confidentiality issues are addressed with the local union and board representatives in the rehabilitation committee meetings.

5. A great majority (82%) of the participants felt it was worth the effort to participate in the program. Presidents who were surveyed also gave strong support for the local involvement. One teacher commented that "I am very pleased to have participated in the BCTF rehab program. I feel the outcome was very good for my students and very good for me." Another wrote, "The BCTF needs to continue this program. Too many teachers need help in coping with the extreme stress in the school system."

The following quotation from a survey participant is indicative of how the program serves members:

"Without the rehab program, I would most likely not be working and either on LTD permanently or perhaps dead... Rehab encourages me to look for other therapies, supports me when the thought of life with pain seems unbearable, liaisons with all members of my team and most importantly provides a well developed rehab plan, so I am still able to work, which is such a source of joy for me."

The Income Security Committee and the SIP Teacher Rehabilitation Program staff are addressing all recommendations from the AON survey and report, and they will take recommendations to the BCTF Executive Committee.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation Salary Indemnity Plan funds a Teacher Rehabilitation Program (TRP) as a component of the disability services provided to teachers throughout the province of British Columbia.

The TRP began in 1993 as a five-local pilot project with 17 districts providing control information. Based on the success of the pilot, the 1999 BCTF AGM passed motions to expand the program across the province.

Under the terms of the program, teachers who are on sick leave and short- or long-term disability, as well as those who need support in dealing with their medical needs, may be referred to a rehabilitation consultant. The rehabilitation service providers working together with BCTF staff and local/district committees will develop and implement a program of medical and work-related rehabilitation assistance for the member.

The TRP, currently offered in 41 districts, covers 85% of the eligible teachers in the province. Another 7 districts are expected to join this year, bringing the coverage to 95% of teachers.

Elizabeth MacKenzie is the BCTF’s SIP teacher rehabilitation program co-ordinator.

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