Supporting Catastrophe

 
By Patty Starr, President & CEO, Health Action Council
 
When I think about a catastrophic event, the first thing I envision is something weather-related like a tornado, earthquake, or a hurricane. Something extremely powerful and destructive. Something that could decimate a community in the blink of an eye.
 
But there are other examples of catastrophes along the spectrum:  Those who make investments might think of one in terms of market activity — if it were to crash, the loss of capital would be catastrophic. A small manufacturer would likely view a warehouse fire destroying all of their inventory as a catastrophe. A teenager who can’t get a wi-fi signal on their family vacation might view the prospect of being offline as catastrophic, albeit erroneously.
 
A catastrophe is any unexpected event that causes great suffering or damage. In our world, a catastrophic event would be one that dramatically impacts the health and wellbeing of one of our employees and appears unexpectedly.
 
Traditionally, it could be an unexpected diagnosis or secondary diagnosis on a routine checkup or an infection contracted while healing. Today, it could be the unexpected loss of a significant other, a child, a family member or friend. It could be a bad financial decision or unexpected financial burden. It could be as simple as the person that cares for our sick employee gets sick themselves.
 
What do we do in these situations? What resources and systems do we have in place to help our employees when catastrophe strikes? Within our organizations, do we have a strong and trustworthy support system? Would your employees withhold a new diagnosis that they received for fear of losing their job or does your company culture promote job security in the face of illness?
 
When you learn of a new illness for one of your employees, do you have the capacity to set them up with an advocate or a care navigator to help direct them to appropriate, quality care? Do you have credible second opinion resources? What resources are in your benefits offering to address mental health, financial support, and other holistic health components (e.g., meals, housing, transportation, caregiving)?
 
Medical support is and has been central to our benefits package. But the total health of an individual relies on so much more. Especially when one of our employees is faced with an unexpected threat to their health.
 
Socioeconomic factors such as education, job security, family and social support can all impact the health and recovery of our employees. Individual health behaviors before and after a catastrophic event can also have a tremendous impact. To compliment what really makes or breaks the health of our employees, our support system should be designed holistically to comprehensively address these factors. So when one of ours falls unexpectedly ill, we have not only the medical support they need, but also the financial and behavioral support that can help speed their recovery.
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