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School board to implement employee assistance program


To the applause of many, the Rainy River District School Board approved an employee assistance program to help deal with workplace stress during its regular meeting here Tuesday night.

The service, provided through the Behavioural Sciences Centre of St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay, will be implemented in September, with an expected annual cost of $24,280.

A contract will be signed between the board and St. Joseph’s Care Group on July 21. Then an information letter will be sent out to all permanent full-time and part-time employees Aug. 14.

A departmental promo package will follow Aug. 28, with an orientation for principals, supervisors, and union reps slated Sept. 6 to further help familiarize employees with the program.

The contract with the care group will be reviewed on an annual basis.

“It will be very beneficial,” said Andrew Hallikas, president of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

“The interesting thing is that it not only deals with drug and alcohol abuse,” he noted. “The more common use is to help people deal with stress and change, and as you know, that’s something teachers across Ontario have been dealing with over the past year.”

“It’s definitely needed,” echoed Gary Gamsby, local president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “There’s been a lot of changes to the curriculum, which happened quickly and sometimes with insufficient resources in place to handle them.”

“[EAP] is something other professions have in place, and it’s time we have it, too,” he stressed.

While long-term absenteeism isn’t necessarily an overall problem within the public school board, Hallikas said the phenomenon is present and often hinges on the individual.

“Certain teachers handle stress differently than others,” he noted. “And it’s important to have this in place before absenteeism becomes a real problem.

“I consider it very enlightened of the board to get something like this in place,” Hallikas added.

“Not only will it be beneficial to teachers and their families, but it will also be good for the well-being of students,” noted Diane Ross, the board’s human resources administrator.

“Any employee would be free to call up the EAP at any time and we’ll give them help,” said Walter Martin, manager of the Behavioural Sciences Centre.

“We’ll have a Masters-level counsellor visiting both Fort Frances and Atikokan on a regular basis to provide intervention, follow-up, or possibly referral to further help,” he added.

A 24-hour hotline also will be open to board employees who need it.

Besides maintaining employees’ sense of well-being, the program is expected to reduce costs associated with short-term and long-term absenteeism.

“This program focuses not only on solving problems but also on getting individuals help before it develops into a problem which affects their work,” said Martin.

St. Joseph’s Care Group had given a presentation March 21 to district CUPE, OSSTF, ETFO, and non-union employees and management which outlined data indicating the impact of this service on employee wellness, attendance, and productivity in the workplace.

St. Joseph’s Care Group has about 80 such employee assistance programs across Northwestern Ontario, including the Superior-Greenstone, Lakehead, and Keewatin-Patricia District School Boards as well as Lakehead University and Confederation College.

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