2016 Teddy Award Winner

Improve the Well-Being of Every Life

Excela Health changed the way it treated injuries and took a proactive approach to safety, drastically reducing workers’ comp claims and costs.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

Excela Health, a health care network operating three hospitals in western Pennsylvania, abides by its mission to improve the health and well-being of every life it touches.

“When we wrote that mission statement about 10 years ago, ‘every life we touched’ was supposed to encompass not only our patients, but our employees and everyone who is here,” said Chief Medical Officer Carol Fox.

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Taking extra care of its employees comes with an added bonus — it helped Excela deeply reduce workers’ compensation claims in the process.

Excela’s across-the-board efforts earn the hospital a 2016 Teddy Award. The numbers speak for themselves: Excela lowered workers’ compensation paid claims costs to $124,076 last year from $859,515 in 2008.

The hospital managed injured employees with a creative and robust return-to-work program and added around-the-clock support from an on-call nursing team. Then it bolstered employee wellness programs and attacked the top causes of workplace injury.

Carol Fox, chief medical officer, Excela Health

Carol Fox, chief medical officer, Excela Health

Excela was formed in 2004 with the merger of three regional Pennsylvania hospitals: Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant; Latrobe Hospital in Latrobe; and Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. The combined health system is the largest employer in the region with more than 4,500 employees.

Excela also runs a home health care and hospice company with 206 workers making more than 275 home visits each day. And there’s a physician practice that employs another 900 people in 98 locations.

That’s a lot of opportunity for accidents and yet just 62 employees filed an OSHA recordable claim in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, down from 233 in fiscal year 2008.

Return to Work Program

A big part of  Excela’s efforts is its Temporary Transitional Return to Work Program, launched in 2010 to encourage employees to remain productive after a work-related injury or illness.

“We keep them working and keep them engaged and we care about them,” said Laurie English, Excela’s chief human resource officer.

Excela has been able to put about 95 percent of injured workers in this program. “That’s truly where the cost reduction has happened,” English said.

Take for example cardiac nurse Ruth Ann Martin. She snagged her foot on a computer cord while getting up to answer a patient’s call a few years ago. She tumbled and her kneecap — taking the brunt of the fall — shattered.

After four decades of working at the hospital without so much as a scratch, the injury sidelined her for a month. After she fell, Martin was met in the emergency room by Eileen Kantorik, an occupational health coordinator, who opened a worker’s compensation case for her.

“We keep them working and keep them engaged and we care about them.” — Laurie English, chief human resource officer, Excela Health

Kantorik has stayed by Martin’s side ever since. She found Martin transportation back and forth to the hospital once she was cleared to return to work. She arranged assistance for Martin, who initially needed a walker, to her desk once she arrived. Kantorik checked in on Martin throughout her recovery and was accessible by cell phone after-hours.

“It made me feel better,” Martin said. “They walked me through everything. It helped a lot because you have the fear of the unknown and without that support it would have been a lot harder.”

As she recovered, Martin was approved to perform scaled-back jobs at the same rate of pay. She has since fully recovered and returned to her previous nursing job. Excela recently celebrated her 45th anniversary at the hospital.

“Where there is an unsafe working condition we feel we owe it to our employees to get them back to 100 percent as quickly as possible,” English said.

“We found having the employee in their department, with the people around them that they normally socialize with, helped to keep them engaged and back to full duty quicker.”

Nurse on Call Program

A Nurse on Call program is another new way Excela captured big cost savings by directing employees to its Employee Health department immediately after an injury. Certified occupational health coordinators such as Kantorik advise employees with significant injuries how best to navigate the workers’ compensation process.

This approach gets employees the most appropriate and cost-effective treatment. If an employee’s injury happens after business hours, or on a weekend or holiday, a Nurse on Call (NOC) initiates the process.

In the past, since Excela runs hospitals, its injured employees instinctively walked to the emergency department for treatment, adding unnecessary expense to the claim.

Excela changed that behavior and got staff comfortable with working with an employee health coordinator using best workers’ comp practices.

Employee Health gets employees seen by the appropriate medical specialist and then back on the job, at full pay, as quickly as possible.

This helps the employee avoid using unnecessary vacation or sick time off, said Mary Blackburn, supervisor of employee safety.

“People who have been injured at work have come to really appreciate that program because they have somebody that’s watching after them and ensuring that things are happening the way things are supposed to be happening,” Fox said.

Tackling the Top Hazards

Excela didn’t just improve the way they cared for employees after an injury. They also established a team that would spring to action to study what caused the accident and how to prevent it in the future.

“We are looking at keeping injuries from ever happening,” said David Byers, director of support services and safety.

“If we can keep that from happening in the first place, we don’t have the injury and we don’t have any of the costs to go along with it.”

After Ruth Ann Martin, the nurse, tripped on the extension cord and busted her knee, Excela’s safety team tied up every cord at every work station off the floor throughout the entire health network. They even redesigned all conference rooms to eliminate cord clutter.

Laurie English, chief human resource officer, Excela Health

Laurie English, chief human resource officer, Excela Health

Of all the risks, Excela’s research initially ranked exposure to blood and body fluids (BBFs) as the No. 1 occupational hazard — that’s needle sticks and other sharp-related injuries which can potentially expose workers to blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis or HIV.

In one case, a phlebotomist was in the middle of the blood draw when a nurse quickly entered the room. The phlebotomist flinched, causing the needle to dislodge and stick her.

When the safety team studied the event, they realized there was no mechanism in place to alert staff when a blood draw is under way.

They set to work to create a broad solution with a program called “Get the Point.” It involves staff training and a hospital-wide flag system on all patient rooms with colored signage indicating the safety hazards within.

What’s on Your Feet?

When digging into other top injuries, Excela discovered employees were getting hurt on their way to and from work. Falls and fractures spiked during inclement weather.

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The Safety and Occupational Health Department launched “What’s On Your Feet?” They greeted arriving employees with safety materials and LifeSavers candy at the entrances as a fun way to encourage appropriate footwear. It worked. Entering work became a red carpet moment as employees playfully showed off shoes to safety advocates each morning.

It all falls under their mission to improve the health and well-being of every life Excela touches.

“That’s the Holy Grail,” Fox said. “We want everybody to be at least as good, and hopefully better, when they leave here.” &

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Read more about the 2016 Teddy Award winners:

target-150x150Bringing Focus to Broad Challenges: Target brings home a 2016 Teddy Award for serving as an advocate for its workers, pre- and post-injury, across each of its many operations.

 

hrt-150x150The Road to Success: Accountability and collaboration turned Hampton Roads Transit’s legacy workers’ compensation program into a triumph.

 

excela-150x150Improve the Well-Being of Every Life: Excela Health changed the way it treated injuries and took a proactive approach to safety, drastically reducing workers’ comp claims and costs.

 

harder-150x150The Family That’s Safe Together: An unwavering commitment to zero lost time is just one way that Harder Mechanical Contractors protects the lives and livelihoods of its workers.

 

More coverage of the 2016 Teddy Awards:

Recognizing Excellence: The judges of the 2016 Teddy Awards reflect on what they learned, and on the value of awards programs in the workers’ comp space.

Fit for Duty: 2013 Teddy Winner Miami-Dade County Public Schools is managing comorbid risk factors by getting employees excited about healthy living.

Saving Time and Money: Applying Lean Six Sigma to its workers’ comp processes earned Atlantic Health a Teddy Award Honorable Mention.

Caring for the Caregivers: Adventist Health Central Valley Network is achieving stellar results by targeting its toughest challenges.

Advocating for Injured Workers: By helping employees navigate through the workers’ comp system, Cottage Health decreased lost work days by 80 percent.

A Matter of Trust: St. Luke’s workers’ comp program is built upon relationships and a commitment to care for those who care for patients.

Keeping the Results Flowing: R&I recognizes the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for a commonsense approach that’s netting continuous improvement.

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]