2017 Teddy Awards: Honorable Mention

Triage, Transparency and Teamwork

When the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Facing the painful medical cost increases that bedevil so many administrators, the City of Surprise, Arizona, significantly cut its medical expenditures and lost work days by implementing new programs and moving to a self-insured model.

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Historically, Surprise was a member of a municipal risk pool that offered a guaranteed-cost program for workers’ compensation. The program served its purpose for the 15 years Surprise was a member, limiting potential exposure by capping aggregate losses. However, costs and premiums were rising.

When Brian Carmichael assumed the role of risk manager in May 2015, he identified a growing interest in the possibility of self-insurance. In the process, the city conducted a thorough analysis of workers’ compensation and found there was “money being left on the table” in premiums and medical costs. Carmichael’s team began prioritizing changes that needed to be made.

Taking Control With Triage

Carmichael noted that Surprise’s workers’ comp medical expenses, at around $800,000, were far more than they should have been for a city of its size. But the best path for a solution wasn’t immediately clear. The risk management team chose to approach the problem at a grass roots level, enlisting the help of employees to talk about their injury experiences.

Through those conversations, the team noted that the city was relying solely on supervisors to triage or direct care to various medical providers in the event of an injury. With no medical training, supervisors often erred on the side of caution and sent injured workers to the emergency room, sometimes for things as minor as a small cut or sprained ankle.

This resulted in frustratingly long wait times for employees and also high costs for the city.

Brian Carmichael, risk manager, City of Surprise, Ariz.

Carmichael’s team recognized the need for skilled medical triage and decided to search for an appropriate partner. It selected a local company to contract with.

A detailed, in-person training session was given to each department on the new procedure and how it would impact the injury and recovery process. Carmichael said the program evolved over the first few months.

The new procedures allowed the city to gain more control over its claims, including protocols for sending reports and email notifications to all stakeholders during an injury.

The risk management department, including senior adjuster Bretton Jeziorski and adjuster and safety analyst Michelle Boyer, immediately reach out to each injured worker to start investigating and expediting medical care.

“We are all notified within 15 minutes of [an injury], which allows us to reach out directly to them. I think that has been the biggest win for us to have that immediate intervention with our employees,” Carmichael said.

The ability to begin the investigation process sooner is also helping the city to eliminate repeat injuries, driving claims frequency down.

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An increase in transparency about claims costs allows risk management to engage everyone in its push to prevent injuries and improve claims outcomes.

“Being able to show what we are paying and going to departments — from city leadership down to line-level employees — created a culture in which everyone was interested,” he said.

Carmichael said the city saw an “immediate shift” in the entity’s ability to contain costs, dramatically reducing the number of hospital bills that formerly might linger for months before risk management even knew about them.

Between 2015 and 2016, visits to the ER fell by half. Yearly average claim costs fell from $6,584 to $4,220, and workers were receiving better care.

The city also significantly reduced lost workdays by expanding opportunities for return to work. Many employees appreciate having the ability to return to light duty roles at full compensation.

“Oftentimes these employees would go to the ER, never do a follow-up, take a month off from work and just disappear. There were holes in the program,” Carmichael said.

While the City of Surprise lost 572 workdays in 2015, the risk management department was able to reduce that number to only 211 days in 2016.

Inspiring Engagement

Carmichael said that using its new transparency about costs has allowed employees to really see how their participation matters, and to take an active interest in continued improvement. “Their cooperation hasn’t been about compliance but about commitment,” he said.

Numerous suggestions offered by employees in regards to process improvement and tool and equipment modifications have been put into place throughout the City in the past year. To keep that momentum alive, Carmichael said the department speaks to all 1,200 full- and part-time city workers at least every other month.

“Oftentimes employees would go to the ER, never do a follow-up, take a month off from work and just disappear. There were holes in the program.” — Brian Carmichael, risk manager, City of Surprise, Ariz.

The program became so successful the city made the leap to becoming self-insured on July 1, 2017. Whereas most similar programs are administered through a TPA, the City of Surprise has opted to self administer. Carmichael said the team wanted to further contain medical costs by going directly to providers and cutting out any markups in the middle.

Carmichael said this decision has enabled them to negotiate some “unbelievable” rates.

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The city is still protected against catastrophic injuries with a self-insured retention of $500,000 for the general population and $1 million for public safety employees. Surprise also established appropriate reserves that would be three times those limits.

“We’re going to build that and invest the money over the years to reduce the program cost to the employees while still keeping those dollars low,” he said.

Through all these measures, Carmichael said Surprise has been able to reduce workers’ compensation medical expenditures from an average of $800,000 to only $300,000 in two years. And from July to October 2017, there was not a single lost workday.

“We have the buy-in from the employees that it’s in their best interest. They’re being paid. It’s a benefit. If they can be here in some way, they come,” he said. &

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More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.

 

Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.

 

Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

 

Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.

 

Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.

 

Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.

 

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at kdwyer@lrp.com.