Long-term support offered through group insurance

By Hubert Roy | August 19 2013 06:16PM

It will take time to rebuild what was destroyed in Lac-Mégantic. The people of Mégantic will also have much to do in order to recover. The Insurance and Investment Journal interviewed two providers of workplace health and well-being services to learn how they have helped people on the ground, and also what to expect in the future.

Solareh provides employee assistance programs to insurers’ corporate clients, both for life and for P&C customers. Lorraine Dauphinais is the company’s director of prevention services, and she says they are making their services available in different ways in Mégantic. “We are offering everything according to the client’s needs. In these circumstances, one should not force things. That’s very important,” she comments. It is the same story at Optima Global Health. “The people of Lac-Megantic have suffered and continue to suffer,” says Jean-Claude Vaillancourt, the firm’s vice-president of business development and customer relations.

Solareh is offering help on two levels. “First of all to employers, to come to the assistance of employees and their families. Next comes assistance to managers, who are going through difficult times, both in the management of their workforce in terms of relocating their activities. In addition, they are often personally affected by the tragedy. They have no respite, neither at home nor at the workplace. So we are doing a lot of work with them,” she says.

A team of workers from Solareh has gone to Lac-Megantic, but a great deal of support was offered by phone. “It is not just a matter of handing out business cards. We asked our business clients for lists of their employees. We had ten people in our Montreal office who contacted these people to show them the kind of support that was available to them, and to reassure them. We also did a lot of crisis management on site and crisis debriefings. We faced a lot of situations that were not very pleasant, such as working with people who lost a family member. People needed to grieve and they were given time. With social services also on-site, everything is being shared evenly. Some people needed to vent for a few minutes or just a few seconds. We were there to remind them that they have access to help,” says Vaillancourt.

Dauphinais says that managers are receiving a lot of coaching by telephone. “Their phones are ringing off the hook...So they are pleased that people are doing conference calls with them,” she comments.

Dauphinais believes that the main challenge managers face both now and in the future is to make sure that their employees’ level of distress does not deteriorate. “We are helping them to make decisions so that, at the end of the day, people will remain at work. We know it is harder for an employee to return if he leaves. We are helping them to put flexibility measures into place, such as part-time work. We are seeing employers using incredible strategies in Lac-Megantic. Some are even going so far as looking for people from outside. It’s all a very difficult situation for them. You see a lot of support, even among managers, which is not always the case,” she notes.

Solareh also began airing live webinars, which focused particularly on resilience and how to identify troubled employees in the future. “We have been there from the beginning, namely from the Sunday following the tragedy. We have about ten clinicians who were sent to the site. Their number varies each day. They have come to the aid of dozens and dozens of people.

Vaillancourt, from Optima, also notes that the assistance provided has been greatly appreciated. As an example he points to Bestar, a furniture manufacturer in Lac-Mégantic. “We talked to the factory employees when it reopened after the tragedy. Some brought their children, with whom we also spoke. In this kind of case, you touch on everything that is important to them in a very short period of time,” he says.

Very often, Solareh clinicians provide customized consultations for hours. “We are proud of our professionals. They are working in difficult conditions, sleeping wherever they can. They are used to hearing about disasters, but this is still an event outside of the ordinary. They talk among themselves, and hold debriefings. If they are too tired, someone else will go. These are special circumstances, but the spirit of support there is energizing everyone, including our specialists. At Solareh, we are very pleased with the way assistance is being delivered,” comments Dauphinais.

She also emphasizes that people from Mégantic will require long-term assistance. “Some will develop post-traumatic stress. Some will go through divorce or cancer. People who were already fragile initially will be even more at risk. That is why we have already conducted psychoeducation with our clients’ managers. They will have to be able to manage serious situations with people. Some will not be able to make life decisions. The tragedy will act as a trigger for them. It can cause a great deal of upset. Employers should be aware of this, and be sensitive to it. They should be very attentive, because it is quite an extraordinary situation,” she says.

Post-traumatic stress

Vaillancourt also expects that the tragedy will have repercussions for people in Mégantic in the coming weeks. “They will go through a lot. The way people experience the tragedy will vary from one person to another. It’s like a bereavement. Not everyone goes through the crisis at the same time. Some are very resilient, while others will experience strong reactions in the coming weeks. We must expect to see some cases of post-traumatic stress. The people of Mégantic are currently in adaptation mode, but that will change,” he says.

He also paid tribute to the way insurers participated on the ground. “It’s in a crisis like this we see that kind of solidarity. I really liked the way insurers reacted. Everyone we met on the ground acted with class and dignity. It was beautiful to see. It shows we have a lot of civic spirit in Quebec. I’m not surprised at it, but it’s always nice to see,” he concludes.