Enabling the Disabled

Banyan Work Health Solutions is changing attitudes toward disabilities in the workplace

Founded on a novel approach to disability management that straddles both common sense and compassion, Banyan Work Health Solutions Inc. provides services to Canadian disability insurers and employers coast to coast. The company’s visionary leader, Maria Vandenhurk, who formally trained as an occupational therapist and psychotherapist, established Banyan in 1995 as an independent consultant and has grown the company into a national workforce of more than 250 specialists. Vandenhurk fully upholds Banyan’s philosophies and methods, and how they have resulted in impressive—and life-changing—successes.
Founded on a novel approach to disability management that straddles both common sense and compassion, Banyan Work Health Solutions Inc. provides services to Canadian disability insurers and employers coast to coast. The company’s visionary leader, Maria Vandenhurk, who formally trained as an occupational therapist and psychotherapist, established Banyan in 1995 as an independent consultant and has grown the company into a national workforce of more than 250 specialists. Vandenhurk fully upholds Banyan’s philosophies and methods, and how they have resulted in impressive—and life-changing—successes.

I started the company with an uncommon philosophy that challenged industry norms at the time: I strongly believe that work is healthy, and given suitable opportunities and clear communication, employees collecting disability benefits will choose to work. Today, Banyan is known for its function-focused approach to claims management and rehab—an approach I helped to pioneer within the industry.

In general, our method emphasizes a person’s capabilities, and addresses the underlying drivers of prolonged disability, as opposed to focusing on the medical condition, restrictions, and limitations. We assess not only the person’s challenges and opportunities, but we delve into and address the individual’s emotional coping. Banyan’s methods are tightly aligned with Hippocrates’s notion that “it is not so much the disease the man has, but the man that has the disease.”

This focus on the person rather than the medical condition is an important corporate differentiator. I have pride in knowing that Banyan is changing attitudes toward disability with individual employees, their employers, and insurers by shifting the focus away from suspicion—or on the other end of the spectrum, sympathy—to empowerment, respect, and a focus on capabilities and creative accommodations.

While Banyan delivers most of its services directly to employees who are struggling at work or off work due to a health challenge, the paying customers include both employers who assume responsibility for the self-insured period and insurers who insure short- and long-term disability. Banyan is also introduced to the paying customer by other stakeholders, including benefits advisors, third-party administrators, or reinsurers.

By the Numbers

 

250+
Number of Banyan employees/consultants providing services across Canada to some 20 disability insurers and a multitude of employers

2,000+
At any given time, the number of employees Banyan is actively helping stay at work or return to work

40,000+
Number of cases worked in 18 years of business

70%
Banyan’s resolution rate despite the fact that it receives largely complex, multidiagnosis cases

22%
Rise in recoveries reported over a 24-month period by a Canadian group insurer, a result of partnering with Banyan’s services

Banyan’s success within the absence management and disability industry is due, in part, to our focus on ensuring a return on investment for employers and insurers alike, and by involving the right solutions at the right time. We embraced metrics early and have a constant eye on measuring important indicators that help recalibrate our approach for the best outcomes.

Included in our ROI initiatives are industry innovations such as a specialized cognitive behavioural therapy program that has been shown to procure superior return to work outcomes in Europe; advanced IT solutions to support various workflows; and an employer portal that helps employers better track and manage the cost of absence.

As I look to the future, I expect our field will only become more complex and require different responses and solutions. We are sitting on the edge of a rapidly changing landscape, and the texture of claims will change dramatically over the next 20 years.

To identify a few of the elements at play, we need only to reflect the following facts: 60 percent of the working population in Canada is over the age of 50, with increasing health issues; there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of mental-health claims over the last two decades and no sign that it is slowing; and the issue of obesity—the number-one health concern in Canada—and its obvious connection to many other disease states and a negative impact on productivity. I believe these challenges offer up tremendous opportunity for a business like Banyan and the field of disability management.

Though Banyan has far surpassed my original goals for the company, there is so much more to be accomplished in our industry. With the remarkable talent that continues to gather at Banyan, we now have new goals and ideas driving business and innovation. Banyan has a clear plan to double its size in the next five years and fully intends to leverage its evolving intelligence and know-how to the industry. We also see opportunities to take our offerings more substantially into the United States and potentially beyond North America.