2018 NWCDC Preview

2018 NWCDC: The Can’t Miss Sessions, Speakers and More from This Year’s Workers’ Comp Conference

The claims advocacy model is just one of many important topics on the agenda for 2018 NWCDC this December at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 5 min read

In the years since “advocacy claims management” gained traction among employers willing to break with tradition, it has been practiced, studied and surveyed enough for the jury to return a verdict: It produces better outcomes and is an effective strategy to control workers’ compensation litigation.


“In the past, we talked about advocacy claims management’s potential to address the needs of injured workers, so they wouldn’t go to an attorney,” said Roberto Ceniceros, senior editor for Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Conference & Expo (NWCDC), which will be held Dec. 5-7 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

“Now practitioners can talk about how to practice it effectively.”

Unlike the traditional adversarial claims model — designed to rein in the few bad actors, but imposed indiscriminately on the majority of workers who simply want to get well and return to work — the advocacy claims model takes a collaborative approach to workers’ compensation, making litigation unwanted and unnecessary for the majority.

“We’re seeing a paradigm shift from ‘claims management’ to ‘injured worker assistance,’ ” said Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund and NWCDC board member.

Despite its demonstrable benefits, both financial and in employee morale, “many companies and claims people think the advocacy model is too hard for them to adopt. It’s not,” Dulich said, as a panel of speakers will explain in the conference session “How Advocacy Programs Produce Optimal Outcomes.”

In keeping with the conference’s goal of providing actionable and sustainable information to attendees, the session panel will also offer advice on program implementation and measurement, Dulich said.

Practical Take-Home Lessons Coming From 2018 NWCDC

All conference presenters will offer practical, real-life experience and case studies that attendees can take back to their companies, Ceniceros said.

Sessions are pitched to a broad range of experience. “They run the gamut from Workers’ Comp 101 to fairly advanced,” Dulich said, and give attendees insight into “a very broad-based capsule of national information.”

Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund

Dulich uses the conference to track trends in jurisdictions other than her own in California. “It prepares me for changes that might be coming down the road in my own jurisdiction. I get a heads up.”

A mega-session, “Steal These Ideas! Teddy-Award Winning Employers Showcase Their Successful Strategies,” beams the spotlight on four award-winning workers’ compensation programs from organizations in retail, health care, the public sector and education.

“These case studies apply across sectors and industries,” said Ceniceros. “Attendees learn from the best.”

Departing from previous years’ tradition of a keynote speaker from within the industry, seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller, now an advocate for women and children’s health, will describe how the gold-medal mindset overcomes challenges and inspires success.

The survivor of numerous injuries that threatened to derail her gymnastics career, her keynote address will describe resilience and the gold-medal mindset — which may apply to efforts the workers’ compensation industry makes on behalf of injured workers.

With tracks devoted to claims management, disability management, medical management, legal/regulatory issues, program management and technology, “there’s something useful for all workers’ comp professionals,” said Ceniceros.

Dulich “likes to pick up a lot of tidbits about what other people are doing that I can do in my own program.” For example, she attended a pharmacy session at the 2017 conference that introduced her to a key metric to measure success. “I went home, looked at my program and used the metric to measure my service provider’s performance.”

In total, the conference features 38 breakout sessions, two “mega sessions” and one general session.  But opportunities to learn aren’t confined to educational sessions, Dulich added. It’s also an opportunity for attendees to “build their Rolodex of contacts.”

Troubled Claims

While advocacy claims management aims to avoid troubled claims, sometimes they’re inevitable. The conference offers help on those, too.


In a session in the track dedicated to medical management, “Getting Difficult, Frustrating and Expensive Claims Unstuck,” medical experts will explain how to first identify the obstacles that delay healing and recovery, then the biopsychosocial interventions that can put claims back on track. Presenters will offer exemplary communications drawn from actual claims that apply to other real-life situations.

“We’re seeing a paradigm shift from ‘claims management’ to ‘injured worker assistance.’ ” — Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund; board member, 2018 NWCDC

Avoiding, Managing and Winning Workers’ Comp Litigation” addresses both aspects of litigation management: knowing how to prevent court involvement and winning when a trial is inevitable. The speakers, including an expert on workers’ compensation cost containment, will offer advice on hiring the right lawyers and dealing with those who don’t understand the complexity of workers’ comp law.

Another session in the Legal/Legislative Issues track, “Avoiding Unintended Consequences, Obtaining Desired Litigation and Legislation Results,” describes how, without strategic thought and experience, the legislative or legal “solution” to one problem can create worse problems.

Presenters will describe real-world examples of decisions that produced unintended consequences, then offer guidance on how to think more strategically.

Return to Work

The conference devotes three sessions to return-to-work issues. In a general session, “A Powerful Combination: Return-to-Work Strategy with Value-Based Accommodations,” a large media company’s senior disabilities manager will discuss how a strong workplace ADA accommodation program, rather than throwing up productivity roadblocks, can improve employee engagement, loyalty, productivity, presenteeism and the bottom line.

A related session, “A Case Study for Shortening Disability Durations with On-Site Resources,” describes how Norton Healthcare’s pilot program to improve the return-to-work process produced a 4:1 return on investment. In its first phase, the program cut 1,200 lost work days by applying ergonomic best practices, improving accommodations and providing psychosocial support.

2018 NWCDC: For the Techies

The 2018 conference continues the technology track that started in 2017.


Telehealth’s Emerging Role in Workers’ Compensation” discusses bringing high-quality, affordable health care remotely to injured workers, and its limitations. Among the considerations: the employer’s workforce, technology requirements, medical-provider relations, regulations and vendor selection.

Health care is a favorite target of hackers. The presenters in “Health Care Under Attack: Tools for Combating Insider and Third-Party Cybersecurity Risks,” a risk manager and an attorney will discuss technologies for avoiding internal staff errors, managing supply chain and thwarting hackers.

Tech in pain management is addressed as well. Research findings suggest virtual reality and wearable technologies may reduce medical costs while preventing injured workers’ exposure to opioids. Executives from Travelers and Samsung Electronics — partners in testing the effectiveness of a “digital pain-reduction kit” — will explain in “Virtual Reality and Wearables: Alternatives to Pain Medications” how technology may play a future role in workers’ comp pain management. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

A Recall Nightmare: Food Product Contamination Kills Three Unborn Children

A failure to purchase product contamination insurance results in a crushing blow, not just in dollars but in lives.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.


Reilly Sheehan, the Bethlehem, Pa., plant manager for Shamrock Foods, looks up in annoyance when he hears a tap on his office window.

Reilly has nothing against him, but seeing the face of his assistant plant operator Peter Soto right then is just a case of bad timing.

Sheehan, whose company manufactures ice cream treats for convenience stores and ice cream trucks, just got through digesting an email from his CFO, pushing for more cost cutting, when Soto knocked.

Sheehan gestures impatiently, and Soto steps in with a degree of caution.

“What?” Sheehan says.

“I’m not sure how much of an issue this will be, but I just got some safety reports back and we got a positive swipe for Listeria in one of the Market Streetside refrigeration units.”



Sheehan gestures again, and Soto shuts the office door.

“How much of a positive?” Sheehan says more quietly.

Soto shrugs.

“I mean it’s not a big hit and that’s the only place we saw it, so, hard to know what to make of it.”

Sheehan looks out to the production floor, more as a way to focus his thoughts than for any other reason.

Sheehan is jammed. It’s April, the time of year when Shamrock begins to ramp up production for the summer season. Shamrock, which operates three plants in the Middle Atlantic, is holding its own at around $240 million in annual sales.

But the pressure is building on Sheehan. In previous cost-cutting measures, Shamrock cut risk management and safety staff.

Now there is this email from the CFO and a possible safety issue. Not much time to think; too much going on.

Sheehan takes just another moment to deliberate: It’s not a heavy hit, and Shamrock hasn’t had a product recall in more than 15 years.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know,” Sheehan says to Soto.

“Do another swipe next week and tell me what you pick up. I bet you twenty bucks there’s nothing in the product. That swipe was nowhere near the production line.”

Soto departs, closing the office door gingerly.

Then Sheehan lingers over his keyboard. He waits. So much pressure; what to do?

“Very well then,” he says to himself, and gets to work crafting an email.

His subject line to the chief risk officer and the company vice president: “Possible safety issue: Positive test for Listeria in one of the refrigeration units.”

That night, Sheehan can’t sleep. Part of Shamrock’s cost-cutting meant that Sheehan has responsibility for environmental, health and safety in addition to his operations responsibilities.

Every possible thing that could bring harmful bacteria into the plant runs through his mind.

Trucks carrying raw eggs, milk and sugar into the plant. The hoses used to shoot the main ingredients into Shamrock’s metal storage vats. On and on it goes…

In his mind’s eye, Sheehan can picture the inside of a refrigeration unit. Ice cream is chilled, never really frozen. He can almost feel the dank chill. Salmonella and Listeria love that kind of environment.

Sheehan tosses and turns. Then another thought occurs to him. He recalls a conversation, just one question at a meeting really, when one of the departed risk management staff brought up the issue of contaminated product insurance.

Sheehan’s memory is hazy, stress shortened, but he can’t remember it being mentioned again. He pushes his memory again, but nothing.

“I don’t need this,” he says to himself through clenched teeth. He punches up his pillow in an effort to find a path to sleep.


“Toot toot, tuuuuurrrrreeeeeeeeettt!”

The whistles of the three lifeguards at the Bradford Community Pool in Allentown, Pa., go off in unison, two staccato notes, then a dip in pitch, then ratcheting back up together.

For Cheryl Brick, 34, the mother of two and six-months pregnant with a third, that signal for the kids to clear the pool for the adult swim is just part of a typical summer day. Right on cue, her son Henry, 8, and his sister Siobhan, 5, come running back to where she’s set up the family pool camp.

Henry, wet and shivering and reaching for a towel, eyes that big bag.

“Mom, can I?”

And Cheryl knows exactly where he’s going.

“Yes. But this time, can you please bring your mother a mint-chip ice cream bar along with whatever you get for you and Siobhan?”

Henry grabs the money, drops his towel and tears off; Siobhan drops hers just as quickly, not wanting to be left behind.


“Wait for me!” Siobhan yells as Henry sprints for the ice cream truck parked just outside of the pool entrance.

It’s the dead of night, 3 am, two weeks later when Cheryl, slumbering deeply beside her husband Danny, is pulled from her rest by the sound of Siobhan crying in their bedroom doorway.

“Mom, dad!” says Henry, who is standing, pale and stricken, in the hallway behind Siobhan.

“What?” says Danny, sitting up in bed, but Cheryl’s pregnancy sharpened sense of smell knows the answer.

Siobhan, wailing and shivering, has soiled her pajamas, the victim of a severe case of diarrhea.

“I just barfed is what,” says Henry, who has to turn and run right back to the bathroom.

Cheryl steps out of bed to help Siobhan, but the room spins as she does so.

“Oh God,” she says, feeling the impact of her own attack of nausea.

A quick, grim cleanup and the entire family is off to a walk-up urgent care center.

A bolt of fear runs through Cheryl as the nurse gives her the horrible news.

“Listeriosis,” says the nurse. Sickening for children and adults but potentially fatal for the weak, especially the unborn.

And very sadly, Cheryl loses her third child. Two other mothers in the Middle Atlantic suffer the same fate and dozens more are sickened.

Product recall notices from state regulators and the FDA go out immediately.

Ice cream bars and sandwiches disappear from store coolers and vending machines on corporate campuses. The tinkly sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” emanating from mobile ice cream vendor trucks falls silent.

Notices of intent to sue hit every link in the supply chain, from dairy cooperatives in New York State to the corporate offices of grocery store chains in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The three major contract manufacturers that make ice cream bars distributed in the eight states where residents were sickened are shut down, pending a further investigation.

FDA inspectors eventually tie the outbreak to Shamrock.

Evidence exists that a good faith effort was underway internally to determine if any of Shamrock’s products were contaminated. Shamrock had still not produced a positive hit on any of its products when the summer tragedy struck. They just weren’t looking in the right place.


Banking on rock-solid relationships with its carrier and brokers, Shamrock, through its attorneys, is able to salvage indemnification on its general liability policy that affords it $20 million to defray the business losses of its retail customers.


But that one comment from a risk manager that went unheeded many months ago comes back to haunt the company.

All three of Shamrock’s plants were shuttered from August 2017 until March 2018, until the source of the contamination could be run down and the federal and state inspectors were assured the company put into place the necessary protocols to avoid a repeat of the disaster that killed 3 unborn children and sickened dozens more.

Shamrock carried no contaminated product coverage, which is known as product recall coverage outside of the food business. The production shutdown of all three of its plants cost Shamrock $120 million. As a result of the shutdown, Shamrock also lost customers.

The $20 million payout from Shamrock’s general liability policy is welcome and was well-earned by a good history with its carrier and brokers. Without the backstop of contaminated products insurance, though, Shamrock blew a hole in its bottom line that forces the company to change, perhaps forever, the way it does business.

Management has a gun to its head. Two of Shamrock’s plants, including Bethlehem, are permanently shuttered, as the company shrinks in an effort to stave off bankruptcy.

Reilly Sheehan is among those terminated. In the end, he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Burdened by the guilt, rational or not, over the fatalities and the horrendous damage to Shamrock’s business. Reilly Sheehan is a broken man. Leaning on the compassion of a cousin, he takes a job as a maintenance worker at the Bethlehem sewage treatment plant.

“Maybe I can keep this place clean,” he mutters to himself one night, as he swabs a sewage overflow with a mop in the early morning hours of a dark, cold February.


Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are their recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

Shamrock Food’s story is not an isolated incident. Contaminations happen, and when they do they can cause a domino effect of loss and disruption for vendors and suppliers. Without Product Recall Insurance, Shamrock sustained large monetary losses, lost customers and ultimately two of their facilities. While the company’s liability coverage helped with the business losses of their retail customers, the lack of Product Recall and Contamination Insurance left them exposed to a litany of risks.

Risk Managers in the Food & Beverage industry should consider Product Recall Insurance because it can protect your company from:

  • Accidental contamination
  • Malicious product tampering
  • Government recall
  • Product extortion
  • Adverse publicity
  • Intentionally impaired ingredients
  • Product refusal
  • First and third party recall costs

Ultimately, choosing the right partner is key. Finding an insurer who offers comprehensive coverage and claims support will be of the utmost importance should disaster strike. Not only is cover needed to provide balance sheet protection for lost revenues, extra expense, cleaning, disposal, storage and replacing the contaminated products, but coverage should go even further in providing the following additional services:

  • Pre-incident risk mitigation advocacy
  • Incident investigation
  • Brand rehabilitation
  • Third party advisory services

A strong contamination insurance program can fill gaps between other P&C lines, but more importantly it can provide needed risk management resources when companies need them most: during a crisis.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.