Column: Workers' Comp

Opinion: Shouldn’t Our Heroes Get the Right Treatment?

By: | April 9, 2018 • 2 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Yet another mass school shooting targeting children, this time one that claimed 17 lives at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — has generated discourse about post-traumatic stress disorder in surviving students, educators and first responders.

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As the discussion expands, debate will likely include broader questions. Should PTSD be compensable for first responders? Will employees who witness co-workers die or get maimed in other horrific workplace accidents be covered? Their risk is just as great.

I want to add to the discourse on PTSD by sharing a personal story, and that of a workers’ comp colleague. We both believe we benefited from a treatment endorsed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for its effectiveness in treating PTSD.

The colleague, an RN, working as an occupational nurse, tried to save a co-worker’s life by administering CPR for 8 minutes. She also administered epinephrine after an allergic reaction closed off the co-worker’s airway.

Neither worked and arriving paramedics couldn’t save her. She turned blue and slipped away.

Memories of seeing the dying woman’s face and her pleas for her life haunted my colleague. She dreamed about not reaching the co-worker in time. She worried excessively that something would happen to her children, and she wouldn’t be there.

It’s not an entirely unique story. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 5,190 work-related deaths in 2016, the third consecutive spike in annual workplace fatalities.

Co-workers surely witnessed plenty of those tragedies. The Department of Labor reports that “critical-incident” witnesses may suffer from fear, guilt and chronic anxiety among other physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Memories of seeing the dying woman’s face and her pleas for her life haunted my colleague. She dreamed about not reaching the co-worker in time. She worried excessively that something would happen to her children, and she wouldn’t be there.

Fortunately my colleague benefited from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR is efficient, because it can help ease distressful memories after just a few sessions.

She sensed improvement after two sessions and underwent about six.

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I first benefited from EMDR applied to treat trauma experienced as a child. I am now better able to manage situations that previously caused unnecessary stress.

EMDR dampens the impact of negative emotions. A therapist guides a patient to recall and reprocess traumatic events while focusing on a back and forth movement or sound.

A few months after witnessing my wife pass away, I turned to EMDR to help soften the jagged edges those memories generate. They are still unpleasant memories, but not as rough.

Some comp payers fear that paying for such treatment could lead to a protracted psych claim.

But helping employees who witness workplace deaths is the right thing to do, especially when an efficient treatment is available, and their future productivity and attention to safety practices may depend on it. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]