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$22M federal grant goes to D-H group aiming to get people back to work after disability

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2021 9:27:58 PM
Modified: 5/14/2021 9:27:57 PM

LEBANON — A team of occupational medicine specialists at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is set to expand a project to help Vermonters get back to work through a four-year, $21.6 million federal grant, according to a news release from the Lebanon-based health system.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to the Vermont Department of Labor will go to support the second phase of a project called Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN).

The effort is aimed at reducing Vermont’s rate of work disability — one of the highest in the U.S. — and also the rate of young people receiving Social Security disability benefits — the second-highest rate nationally, according to the Tuesday news release. In addition to affecting people’s economic well-being, unemployment also can be a risk factor for physical and mental health issues such as heart disease, stroke, depression, suicide and the use of health care services.

“Through my clinical work, I repeatedly saw a gap in care during a critical time window,” Dr. Karen Huyck, the RETAIN project’s medical director who is part of D-H’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine section, said in the release. “I saw patients suffering and providers not knowing what to do.”

In the first phase of the project, which began in 2018, Vermont received $2.3 million and was to identify at least 120 workers with musculoskeletal work-related injuries or illnesses who were not receiving federal disability benefits. The D-H providers were to then connect with those workers by phone to help them access services such as vocational counseling, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

The D-H team also has conducted dozens of focus groups and interviews with clinicians, employers, vocational specialists and employees to better understand the unmet needs of sick and injured workers, their employers and treatment providers, the release said.

Now, in the second phase of the project with this new funding, the effort is set to expand across Vermont. D-H and 67 other primary care clinics aim to coordinate services to enable workers with injuries and illnesses stay at or get back to work.

The project also aims to support clinicians who may not otherwise have the tools they need to identify and treat work-related disability, as well as to create best practices for return-to-work services for Vermonters, including education; training grants; and support for employers, health care providers, individuals and community partners.

Vermont is one of five states to receive funding in this second phase of the RETAIN grant. The others are Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota and Ohio.

More information about the project is available online at:

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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