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Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Workplace Challenge for Employers and Women

Posted by YWM on April 26, 2013

Ann Sullivan,  Dr Frances Le Bas,  Angela Scott-Ferrell and Jeanne Simmons-McNeil.

Ann Sullivan, Dr Frances Le Bas, Angela Scott-Ferrell and Jeanne Simmons-McNeil.

April 25 in Sacramento, California a panel of experts in health care and business highlighted the impact of rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic conditions on employers and women in the workplace.  The panel included moderator Ann Sullivan and panelists Jeanne Simmons-McNeil—patient advocate, small business owner and a BPW/CA member, Angela Scott-Ferrell—rheumatoid arthritis patient and, Dr. Frances Le Bas—occupational medicine, pain management, and family practitioner

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a discriminatory disease:  75 percent of patients are women and African Americans suffer the physical symptoms worse than any other population.  But RA comes at a cost that goes way beyond physical pain.  With women making up about 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, rheumatoid arthritis has an enormous impact on workplace productivity to the tune of around 50 billion dollars.

Experts and patients at the panel discussion, held during the California Black Chamber of Commerce African American Leadership “Economic Issues Forum”, pointed out that women and employers need to be more aware of the many treatment options available to sufferers of RA and other chronic diseases, so that they can effectively manage their health and the loss of productivity associated with these conditions. 

Angela Scott-Ferrel

Angela Scott-Ferrel

“I can tell you firsthand how hard it is to live with a chronic disease like RA,” said  Angela Scott-Ferrell who has suffered from the disease for nearly 7 years.  “Rheumatoid arthritis is often misunderstood.  Often employers think it’s just temporary pain, but it dramatically impacts a person’s professional and personal life. ”

“Women make up such a large portion of the workforce so it’s extremely important to provide support and education about the latest treatments, so that those who suffer can live productive, and rewarding lives and can contribute to the success of their workplaces,” said Barbara Kasoff, President of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), a co-sponsor of the panel. WIPP and the Business and Professional Women’s(BPW) Foundation recently joined together to form the Working Women Rheumatoid Arthritis Project (WRAP2013), a rheumatoid arthritis awareness campaign for women and employers.

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly strikes between the ages of 20 and 60, though trends toward the older end.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2014, nearly a quarter of workers in the U.S. will be age 55 and older and more people are retiring later in life, making this a growing concern. 

“Given that more and more women are working later in life it is imperative that employers adapt.   It often only takes

Panel member and BPW/CA member Jeanne Simmons-McNeil with BPW Foundation CEO Deborah Frett

Panel member and BPW/CA member Jeanne Simmons-McNeil with BPW Foundation CEO Deborah Frett

small, easy changes in the work environment to make a big difference in someone’s productivity,” said Deborah Frett, CEO of Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, the other organization co-sponsoring the panel discussion. “A better understanding of rheumatoid arthritis, getting properly diagnosed, and getting properly treated, will remove barriers to success.”

For more information, visit www.WRAP2013.org



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