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Navigating the return to work after illness

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Posted at 2:26 PM, Jul 29, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — For people who are recently injured, or even COVID-19 long haulers, navigating a return to the workforce can be tough.

That’s where a statewide program called RETAIN Kentucky can help. It stands for “Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network.” Since 2018, the federally-funded program has helped more than 200 Kentuckians get back to work. They want to help thousands more over the next few years.

Kimberly Wickert is the director of organizational partnerships for RETAIN. She told LEX 18 the organization provides one-on-one help to eligible employees.

“What are those individual’s goals?” she said. “What are their abilities? What can they bring to the table for an employer?”

The program relies on peer support, assistive technology, and universal design to get Kentuckians back on the job. Since the start of the pandemic, staff says their mission has become even more urgent.

“If any Kentuckian wants to stay at their current job, or they want to return to their job, or they would like to find a different job because they are not able to do that job anymore due to an injury or illness, RETAIN Kentucky is a powerful tool,” said Shirley Kron, RETAIN’S director of outreach and engagement.

2019 data shows one-third of Kentucky adults live with a disability. COVID-19 has impacted both the physical and mental health of the Commonwealth’s workforce. That can include long haulers, who may be unemployed while they deal with continued symptoms.

“We have a lot of ways that we can ensure we have an inclusive workforce, and we can provide accommodations,” said Wickert. “Let’s think about where you want to start, and where you want to be, and we’ll help you build that bridge.”

Staff says it takes just one phone call to determine if someone qualifies, and they can get to work immediately helping people advocate for themselves at work. They encourage people to take advantage of the current “employee’s market,” as businesses across the country find themselves dealing with a labor shortage.

“Right now is the time for someone, if you want to be able to work, and show your skills to an employer because employers are very interested in hiring individuals right now,” said Wickert.

If you’re an employer or employee who wants to get in touch with RETAIN, call them at 859-562-3251. You can also email them at retain@uky.edu.

In May, RETAIN Kentucky received a U.S. Department of Labor grant worth $21.6 million. Click here to find out more.