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

Property

Insurers Take to the Skies

This year’s hurricane season sees the use of drones and other aerial intelligence gathering systems as insurers seek to estimate claims costs.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

For Southern communities, current recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will recall the painful devastation of 2005, when Katrina and Wilma struck. But those who look skyward will notice one conspicuous difference this time around: drones.

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Much has changed since Katrina and Wilma, both economically and technologically. The insurance industry evolved as well. Drones and other visual intelligence systems (VIS) are set to play an increasing role in loss assessment, claims handling and underwriting.

Farmers Insurance, which announced in August it launched a fleet of drones to enhance weather-related property damage claim assessment, confirmed it deployed its fleet in the aftermath of Harvey.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now,” said George Mathew, CEO of Kespry, Farmers’ drone and aerial intelligence platform provider partner.

“The current wind and hail damage season that we are entering is when many of the insurance carriers are switching from proof of concept work to full production rollout.”

 According to Mathew, Farmers’ fleet focused on wind damage in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, at the time of this writing. “Additional work is already underway in the greater Houston area and will expand in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

No doubt other carriers have fleets in the air. AIG, for example, occupied the forefront of VIS since winning its drone operation license in 2015. It deployed drones to inspections sites in the U.S. and abroad, including stadiums, hotels, office buildings, private homes, construction sites and energy plants.

Claims Response

At present, insurers are primarily using VIS for CAT loss assessment. After a catastrophe, access is often prohibited or impossible. Drones allow access for assessing damage over potentially vast areas in a more cost-effective and time-sensitive manner than sending human inspectors with clipboards and cameras.

“Drones improve risk analysis by providing a more efficient alternative to capturing aerial photos from a sky-view. They allow insurers to rapidly assess the scope of damages and provide access that may not otherwise be available,” explained Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy at JLT Specialty USA.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now.” — George Mathew, CEO, Kespry

“In our experience, competitive advantage is gained mostly by claims departments and third-party administrators. Having the capability to provide exact measurements and details from photos taken by drones allows insurers to expedite the claim processing time,” he added.

Indeed, as tech becomes more disruptive, insurers will increasingly seek to take advantage of VIS technologies to help them provide faster, more accurate and more efficient insurance solutions.

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

One way Farmers is differentiating its drone program is by employing its own FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives.

Keith Daly, E.V.P. and chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance, said when launching the program that this sets Farmers apart from most carriers, who typically engage third-party drone pilots to conduct evaluations.

“In the end, it’s all about the experience for the policyholder who has their claim adjudicated in the most expeditious manner possible,” said Mathew.

“The technology should simply work and just melt away into the background. That’s why we don’t just focus on building an industrial-grade drone, but a complete aerial intelligence platform for — in this case — claims management.”

Insurance Applications

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, believes that, while currently employed primarily to assess catastrophic damage, VIS will increasingly be employed to inspect standard property damage claims.

However, he admitted that at this stage they are better at identifying binary factors such as the area affected by a peril rather than complex assessments, since VIS cannot look inside structures nor assess their structural integrity.

“If a chemical plant suffers an explosion, it might be difficult to say whether the plant is fully or partially out of operation, for example, which would affect a business interruption claim dramatically.

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“But for simpler assessments, such as identifying how many houses or industrial units have been destroyed by a tornado, or how many rental cars in a lot have suffered hail damage from a storm, a VIS drone could do this easily, and the insurer can calculate its estimated losses from there,” he said.

In addition,VIS possess powerful applications for pre-loss risk assessment and underwriting. The high-end drones used by insurers can capture not just visual images, but mapping heat, moisture or 3D topography, among other variables.

This has clear applications in the assessment and completion of claims, but also in potentially mitigating risk before an event happens, and pricing insurance accordingly.

“VIS and drones will play an increasing underwriting support role as they can help underwriters get a better idea of the risk — a picture tells a thousand words and is so much better than a report,” said Ellis.

VIS images allow underwriters to see risks in real time, and to visually spot risk factors that could get overlooked using traditional checks or even mature visual technologies like satellites. For example, VIS could map thermal hotspots that could signal danger or poor maintenance at a chemical plant.

Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy, JLT Specialty USA

“Risk and underwriting are very natural adjacencies, especially when high risk/high value policies are being underwritten,” said Mathew.

“We are in a transformational moment in insurance where claims processing, risk management and underwriting can be reimagined with entirely new sources of data. The drone just happens to be one of most compelling of those sources.”

Ellis added that drones also could be employed to monitor supplies in the marine, agriculture or oil sectors, for example, to ensure shipments, inventories and supply chains are running uninterrupted.

“However, we’re still mainly seeing insurers using VIS drones for loss assessment and estimates, and it’s not even clear how extensively they are using drones for that purpose at this point,” he noted.

“Insurers are experimenting with this technology, but given that some of the laws around drone use are still developing and restrictions are often placed on using drones [after] a CAT event, the extent to which VIS is being used is not made overly public.”

Drone inspections could raise liability risks of their own, particularly if undertaken in busy spaces in which they could cause human injury.

Privacy issues also are a potential stumbling block, so insurers are dipping their toes into the water carefully.

Risk Improvement

There is no doubt, however, that VIS use will increase among insurers.

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“Although our clients do not have tremendous experience utilizing drones, this technology is beneficial in many ways, from providing security monitoring of their perimeter to loss control inspections of areas that would otherwise require more costly inspections using heavy equipment or climbers,” said Luck.

In other words, drones could help insurance buyers spot weaknesses, mitigate risk and ultimately win more favorable coverage from their insurers.

“Some risks will see pricing and coverage improvements because the information and data provided by drones will put underwriters at ease and reduce uncertainty,” said Ellis.

The flip-side, he noted, is that there will be fewer places to hide for companies with poor risk management that may have been benefiting from underwriters not being able to access the full picture.

Either way, drones will increasingly help insurers differentiate good risks from bad. In time, they may also help insurance buyers differentiate between carriers, too. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]