Our long-COVID treatment program supports workers for the long haul

When COVID symptoms linger, our post-COVID treatment program helps workers move forward

It all started with the sniffles. Next came the sore, dry throat and congestion. Then the unquenchable thirst. But it wasn’t until Debbie Thomson slept for 17 hours straight that she knew something was really wrong.

Debbie tested positive for COVID-19 in December 2020 after an outbreak in her workplace. At the time, she never imagined this would be the start of a long and difficult recovery.

“It’s both mentally and physically challenging. There were so many times I was so angry at myself and my body because of the way I felt,” says Debbie.

Finding support through WCB’s post-COVID treatment program

COVID is complicated. People often experience similar symptoms, but no two recoveries are exactly alike. Some people recover quickly. Others, like Debbie, experience ongoing symptoms that turn into long-COVID, the new term for long-lasting challenges that can significantly impact someone’s daily life.

That’s where our post-COVID treatment program comes in. The first of its kind in Alberta, the program focuses on a multi-faceted rehabilitation approach to COVID recovery. The goal is to help clients deal with the long-term effects of COVID, including mental fatigue, shortness of breath and pain. This virtual program includes a team of physicians, occupational, physical and exercise therapists who help tailor a rehabilitation program specific to each clients’ needs, barriers and tolerances. It’s a collaborative approach to support their recovery and improve their quality of life.

Getting our clients back to life…and to work

“There can be a lot of unknowns and uncertainty for people working through this program,” says Meghan Belrose, an exercise therapist who works with clients at our Millard Health Treatment Centre.

“Many of our clients face increased social isolation and feel like few people understand what they’re going through. The treatment team provides them with education about the nature of their diagnosis and the recovery process. We also connect them with other people going through a similar experience.”

Kelly Mah, an occupational therapist on the team, describes the program as a starting point for clients like Debbie as they continue with their recoveries after discharge.

“The overall goal is to provide our clients with the tools they need to deal with their ongoing symptoms as they regain their independence at home and eventually return to work.”

Making a difference, one worker at a time

In addition to services provided at Millard Health, we partner with external health care providers, Lifemark and CBI Health, to support the growing need for long-COVID care across the province. Each treatment provider collaborates with the worker’s family doctor and community health providers to share information and create well-rounded treatment programs that are as unique as the individual workers they serve.

“I was really amazed at how closely the team worked together and communicated about my treatment,” says Debbie. “They were all incredibly supportive and patient with me, and because of that I learned how to be patient with myself and my recovery.”

Since its inception, 110 clients have completed the program across the province. Of those, 82% were fit to return to work in a full or modified capacity.

The average length of stay for clients in the program ranges from eight to 12 weeks, with a three-month follow-up period. This ensures clients receive the ongoing supports they need to keep their recovery plan on track.

Debbie is back to work on modified duties and has adapted the rehabilitation exercises she received during treatment to her everyday life.

“I don’t know where I would be without this program. I learned how to simplify my life and work on one thing at a time. Whenever I’m feeling anxious or worn out, I take a step back, breathe, and remember to plan, prioritize and pace myself.”