After a workplace injury, many workers need extra support and assistance so they can re-join the workforce. In most cases, the longer injured workers spend out of the workforce the more support they need to return. The journey to employment involves employers, workers, doctors, insurers and training providers working together to overcome barriers to employment for the injured worker.
In 2018-19, icare Foundation allocated $5 million to organisations supporting injured workers’ mental, social and emotional health to support them to return to a better quality of life and, where appropriate, to work.
One of these programs was Plus Social, a truly innovative GP social prescribing program to embrace holistic health, designed and run by Primary & Community Care Services (PCCS) across NSW. By the conclusion of the program at end-May 2019, 175 workers had participated, including Corey.
Corey was one of those lucky people whose passion was something he got paid for. He worked as an arborist and was a speed climber in his spare time. Until his accident at work, that is.
Because it was work-related, Corey was offered light duties for 12 months after his hip, shoulder and hernia surgery. But after a year, Corey’s doctors still couldn’t recommend he return to his previous role, so his employment was terminated.
Reconnection after disconnection
This left Corey feeling disconnected and isolated because he had no structure to his week and he’d lost his mates of 12 years and the support they had given him. He was also struggling to deal with pain, sleeplessness and the physical limitations of his injury, having led an active outdoor life before the accident.
“The work friends I associated with tended to do physical activities together and now my injury excluded me,” says Corey.
Corey’s GP referred him to Plus Social. His Link Worker Elaine explained how social prescription works.
“It runs alongside traditional medical interventions, to help people who whose injuries or mental health conditions may be exacerbated by isolation, depression or anxiety,” says Elaine.
“Social prescription activities are a way to build social connection, self-esteem, resilience and happiness. Without a regular job to go to, Corey was just sitting at home, or going to health appointments,” she says.
“Together we worked out a plan and developed a positive structure to his week. Just having a Link Worker and meeting new people at these activities made him feel he had people who listened and cared.”
Planning for a new future
Elaine encouraged him to explore non-physical interests. Corey joined local social and relaxation community groups and the Social Plus art group. At the same time he started new family activities, like wood turning, which has brought the family closer together. He was able to connect with other people who’d been injured at work and they shared his concerns and fears and has gained new friends from the Plus Social and community groups.
Plus Social and his Link Worker have helped Corey develop a more positive mindset and the confidence to explore new work opportunities.
“Elaine helped me understand that the more my isolation and depression increased, my pain and hopelessness also increased,” says Corey.
“I feel that my recovery is under control and I can start planning for a new future.”