As a director of physical therapy for Kindred Healthcare, Renee Schmidt is responsible for knowing what benefits her company provides so she can help explain them to her staff. But after a serious injury, her own experience gave her a greater appreciation for how disability benefits can protect American workers from an unexpected injury or illness.
Renee Schmidt has had five surgeries on her right knee to repair damage caused by degenerative joint disease. In her 40s and physically fit, Renee expected to be back at full strength six to eight weeks after the last surgery. But a nerve block, designed to suppress pain after complicated surgeries, never reached her femoral nerve. Instead, it infiltrated her quadriceps muscle above her knee.
“The nerve block reached my thigh and caused my leg to swell about four times its normal size,” Renee explained. “When the normal anesthetic wore off, not only was I in severe pain and horribly bruised, my leg was extremely swollen. I was expected to leave the hospital within two days of surgery, but I ended up staying six nights so my doctor could monitor me for blood clotting and try to control the swelling.”
As a clinician, it was apparent to Renee that she wasn’t going to be back to work as quickly as she hoped.
“I’m a director of physical therapy for Kindred Healthcare, so it was a big blow to me and my staff to learn I’d be out longer than I expected,” Renee said.
Renee’s claim was assigned to Paul Brinkmann, a lead disability benefits specialist with Unum, who took a team-oriented approach to guide her through the claims process and get her back to work.
“It’s difficult and frustrating as a clinician not to work because of an injury, but Paul had a great way of calming me down and motivating me to keep working on my rehabilitation,” Renee said. “He also took time to get to know more about me, which was wonderful. Feeling that individualized concentration on my needs was overwhelming at times, because you don’t normally get that type of service.”
Paul discussed options and accommodations that would best support Renee’s ability to get back to her job on a full-time basis. He also referred her file to Betty Morris, a Unum vocational rehabilitation specialist.
“I was hesitant at first to contact Betty because I’m a therapist, and I thought I should know what I had to do to get back,” Renee said. “Betty was very accommodating and great at explaining what Unum’s return-to-work support was all about.”
Betty talked to Renee about her physical limitations and the requirements of her job. She then contacted Renee’s human resources department to arrange for an ergonomic evaluation that would determine what Renee needed to help her return to work. She also explained that Unum would be paying for the worksite modifications under the terms of Renee’s long term disability policy, so there would be no cost to Renee’s employer.
After the ergonomic assessment, Unum had an automatic height-adjustable desk installed that allows Renee to sit or stand depending on how her knee feels. She was also given an ergonomic office chair and leg rest, as well as training on proper use of the equipment.
Renee returned to work 4 months after going out on disability leave. Her knee still swelled when she overdid it, but she thinks it would have been worse without all the new equipment.
“I didn’t realize how much this equipment would help me,” she said. “It’s nice to have the option to sit or stand when I need to or to just prop my leg up on my stool when it hurts.”
She’s also thankful for the disability benefits she received over the course of her injury.
“It hurts when the income you’re used to is taken away all of a sudden,” she said. “It was comforting to receive my disability check every month to buy groceries and pay the bills. We really didn’t have to change our lifestyle too much.
“I’m very grateful for the company-paid disability benefits I have through Kindred and honored to work for a company that cares enough about its employees to provide them,” she said. “I’m also glad my company chose Unum.”