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'We want to be leaders': LHSC to offer staff unlimited mental health benefits

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Working in a health care setting can being rewarding, but overwhelming.

Due to the potential anxiety or long-term stress, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is set to offer its employees additional supports.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, LHSC will offer unlimited mental health benefits to all union and non-union members who are enrolled in the benefit plan, as well as dependents.

“As a frontline nurse, people often share their history and their stories with us and with that, comes their trauma, and you take that home,” says Heather Talbot, Indigenous lead at LHSC’s Regional Renal Program. “For us to be able to decompress with a mental health professional is hugely beneficial.”

The current mental health benefit package offers only $300 annually and it is limited to psychologist only.

The new package will be expanded to include a variety of service providers, allowing access to treatment from more professionals including psychotherapists, social workers and counciellor.

“We wanted to be leaders in this and be really responsive to our staff,” says Dr. Kevin Chan, acting president and CEO of LHSC. “It is part of that change here at LHSC to really provide a caring environment for all our employees. They said we really need these benefits for our well being, and we are responding to that.”

Irnes Zeljkovic is the clinical navigator of first episode psychosis program at LHSC in London, Ont. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)LHSC is London’s largest employer with approximately 15,000 staff, and the post-pandemic has taken a toll on a number of them.

According to LHSC, the only other front-line staff within the London area with unlimited mental health benefits is the OPP.

“The catalyst was for us was that the Ontario Nurses Association, the union that represents nurses in the province of Ontario did receive mental health unlimited mental health benefits in their latest arbitrated award,” says Julia Marchesan, human resources and workforce wellness executive at LHSC. “Staff are identifying over and over and over again that the most important benefit they are looking for is mental health benefits.”

An LHSC employee works out at the health and wellness centre at Victoria Hospital (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

LHSC has fitness and wellness centres at University Hospital and Victoria Hospital to meet the needs of staff 24/7 for free.

Marchesan adds that the mental health is the number one reason staff go off sick for extended periods of time.

“We think that there is a business argument to be made for us to invest in mental health benefits in order for us to hopefully keep people resilient enough to continue to come to work,” adds Marchesan. “We know that all of our staff are struggling often to balance what they see in the patients we serve marginalized communities. Often people that despite our best efforts, are still going to struggle to make a go of it in this very complex world of ours. And our staff put up their hands often to say ‘I am traumatized or I am distressed by what I'm seeing, and what I'm experiencing on a day to day basis.’” 

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