2017 Teddy Award Winner

Workers’ Compensation Improvements in Health Care

The Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

The Valley Health System embarked on a journey to completely transform its workers’ compensation program. Now, five years later, Valley can boast it did just that.

Valley Health  is a regional healthcare system that serves residents in northern New Jersey and southern New York. From 2012 to today, Valley reduced its annual workers’ compensation budget by 69 percent while the number of employees increased 14 percent. Lost-time claims per year went from 171 to 79 and workplace violence injuries decreased by 50 percent in just one year.

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“This culture of safety has really made everybody, from the top down, more aware of their areas to see what’s in place for the safety of our employees,” said Linda Carey, a registered nurse at Valley who witnessed the changes firsthand.

In 2011, Valley’s workers’ comp budget reached a staggering $2.1 million and its incident rate was 5.72, leading to a two-and-a-half month-long site evaluation by OSHA. At the end, OSHA presented the health system with a list of safety recommendations.

It was just the catalyst Valley needed.

“Back in 2011, the workers’ comp program — while our nurses give excellent care — was not being run as it should be and a lot of our claims were going to the excess carrier,” explained Barbara Schultz, director of employee health and wellness, Valley Health.

When OSHA gave its recommendations, Valley began its own assessment to move in a more proactive and strategic direction.

Enhancing Safety

Health care workers are highly susceptible to workplace violence, whether it be a combative patient, a confused patient or even an outside force like an active shooter.

“Hospitals are soft targets. We embrace the role of the family,” explained Schultz.

Barbara Schultz, director, employee health and wellness, Valley Health

“Visiting hours are almost around the clock. We are a welcoming institution, which makes us very porous in terms of access.”

On top of that, regulations and rules have changed for hospitals over the past few decades. Where once a nurse or physician could use restraints to hold back a combative patient, laws prevent the use of such force unless in extreme circumstances.

“More staff is vulnerable. We’re caregivers, we’re meant to be there, and sometimes these patients lash out and swing.”

Once OSHA gave its recommendations, Valley tracked incidences of patient-on-caregiver violence, benchmarking the unit, the shifts incidences occurred and the type of patient involved. They used this data to further educate and train employees on safe work practices, creating the Safety and Security Director role in the process. This role reviews best safety practices across the system’s facilities.

Dan Coss, Valley’s Director of Security, Public Safety and Environmental Services, is an important asset to the safety protocols at Valley, Schultz said. With a PhD in the science of safety and security, Coss made employee safety paramount.

“He strengthened relationships with local authorities,” said Schultz, “he helped with workplace violence as a whole and brought in the Code Atlas team.”

Code Atlas is a 50-member team of trained staff members ready to address combative patients 24/7. This team is prepared to handle disruptive patients from the moment they arrive to the point where they are stabilized and cooperative. Overall, this team reduced workplace violence claims by half.

Also included in Coss’s job was incorporating active shooter training.

Valley hosts three to four small drills per month and one large drill per year involving local law enforcement.

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During the smaller drills, “Dan will come in as a relative with a bill complaint or someone who’s lost a loved one. He comes in yelling at the top of his lungs. The whole point is to get out of the situation safely,” Schultz explained.

“The staff is expected to respond by fleeing — run and get out of the way. If they don’t have the ability to run, they’re told to hide. If Dan sees you, he will pretend to shoot you.”

“I’ve been briefed on the drill [afterwards],” said Carey.  “It’s frightening even when you know it’s a drill. It gives people an idea of what they’ll feel and how they might react.”

Lissette Carcano, workers’ compensation care coordinator, Valley Health, once volunteered to be a patient during a drill.

“Visiting hours are almost around the clock. We are a welcoming institution, which makes us very porous in terms of access.” — Barbara Schultz, director, employee health and wellness, Valley Health

“I was an ER patient locked in a room with a nurse. You shake in your boots. It becomes real, but I felt very comfortable with the nurse,” she said.

The larger drill takes a year to plan. Valley must get EMS, fire rescue and local law enforcement on board before enacting an active shooter drill. Instead of Coss acting as the perpetrator, the police volunteer an officer to enter the selected facility holding a red gun to indicate that it is fake.

Sometimes, Schultz added, they will use simulation rounds, or training ammunition. In these instances, the fake gun makes a loud sound — similar to the sound of a real gun being fired — but the ammunition is fake and non-lethal.

“It’s scary for the employees, but they have an opportunity to handle the situation in a relatively safe way,” said Schultz.

“We’re looking at patient safety and employee safety like never before.”

Aligning Comp Philosophies

The biggest challenge Valley faced was aligning each individual nurse case manager with the new philosophy for safety and security. Before, Schultz said, each nurse had their own way of providing care to injured workers. To get workers back safely and efficiently, Valley knew it had to set one standard of care.

Lissette Carcano, workers’ compensation care coordinator, Valley Health

The Workers’ Compensation Care Coordinator role was created to oversee the entire workers’ comp process, guaranteeing that the quality and type of care was uniform across the Valley network. This role, according to Schultz, was pivotal for the success of the workers’ comp program.

“I needed someone who was kind, compassionate but firm. Someone who could manage with consistency,” said Schultz. Carcano fit the bill.

“She’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Cari Burhenne, regional claims service manager, PMA Companies.

Carcano entered Valley and provided the adjusters with what they needed while continuing to care for each worker, Burhenne explained.

Valley’s philosophy used to be “full-duty or no duty.” Carcano worked to get injured workers into temporary duty roles suitable for them while they recovered, and thanks to her return-to-work advocacy, Valley’s lost-time claims decreased from 171 per year to 79.

“The focus on return to work, I think, is number one in what reduced Valley’s overall claims costs,” said Burhenne.

“Valley is very invested in doing what’s right for their employees. There’s the business sense but also that sense of caring for their employees. It’s a great combination.”

When a worker is injured on the job, Schultz and Carcano have worked hard to get their employees seen by physicians and other health care providers as quickly as possible.

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“The way Barbara and Lissette established great relationships with physicians has made the [workers’ comp] process streamlined and effective; it’s very expeditious,” said Carey. “They are looking for the best care for employees and patients.”

The health care system also implemented a full-scale safe patient handling program, overhauled its dining and environmental services safety committees and implemented health awareness among its employees.

Carey added, “When our employees are healthy and safe at work, our patients benefit.” &

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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.

 

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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.

PART ONE: THE HEAT IS ON

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.”

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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.

PART TWO: STRICKEN FAMILIES

“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.

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“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.

PART THREE: AN INSURANCE TANGLE

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.

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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.

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

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 [email protected]