Pacific Coast University of Workplace Health Sciences—PCU-WHS for short—is nestled among the trees at one end of Cherry Creek Road in Port Alberni. A quiet institution of learning that was on the cutting edge of virtual learning before it became a global necessity, PCU-WHS has quietly been building a big reputation in return-to-work education.
On Dec. 1, 2020, the university held its first-ever convocation ceremony for a graduate of the Bachelor of Disability Management. Since then, the institution has received government recognition at both the provincial and national levels.
Shanna Ramm enrolled in the degree program in 2015 and participated in the university’s flexible, distance learning approach. She was able to achieve her degree while living in Saskatchewan and working full time as a senior disability and wellness specialist for Mosaic Inc., a major resource extraction company.
“For all of us it was a tremendous achievement,” said Wolfgang Zimmermann, executive director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR), one of the people who pushed for the university.
“It was a very small but very concrete milestone, from starting to get a degree approved to having the first (graduate).”
Already, PCU-WHS has a cohort of about a dozen students going through the program in 2021 and a similar number for 2022.
If there is one thing the novel coronavirus pandemic has done is it has pointed out how keenly affected people with disabilities have been at the global shutdowns. The B.C. government recognized this and has awarded NIDMAR with $6 million in a one-time grant to administer a return-to-work and disability management education program and support project over the next four years.
The project has three strategies to support B.C. employers’ capacity to accommodate injured workers to return to work, as well as increase the number of people with disabilities in the provincial workforce.
Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns meantime is pushing the federal Liberal government for a national return-to-work strategy for workers who acquire a mental or physical health impairment.
Eighty percent of all impairments happen within someone’s working life, said Zimmermann, who experienced it first hand several decades ago. After spending a year on disability support, less than one percent will work again.
“Being gainfully employed is one of the critical indicators of health, and that’s what this is all about.”