Nurse Case Manager Chronicles

The Case Manager’s Many Hats

Nurse case managers act as a resource of knowledge, assistance and support for injured workers and everyone involved in their care.
By: | March 26, 2018 • 4 min read

Do you know what your nurse case manager does? Sure, on the surface it’s easy to know the job description — a registered nurse who coordinates all aspects of care for injured workers — but what exactly is a nurse case manager doing each day to help injured workers, save insurers money and keep workers’ compensation claims out of court?

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The answer: They’re wearing many hats. Mediator, moderator, educator, negotiator and expert.

“Nothing is the same from day to day,” said Chikita Mann, a registered nurse and the Georgia branch supervisor for Genex Services, which specializes in medical management. “The most challenging part is working with a number of different personalities.”

A case manager spends their day speaking with doctors, employers, workers, adjusters, insurers and attorneys. That nurse is the go-to person for knowledge and the go-between for each step of the workers’ comp claim.

Knowing People

“I can be very blunt and straightforward sometimes,” Mann said. “I have learned to adapt my own behavior to each person I interact with. No matter the personality, everyone wants to know they are being heard and they have something to contribute to a situation.”

When a worker gets injured, different agendas can cause stress and strife.

Chikita Mann, RN, Georgia branch supervisor, Genex Services

An employer aims to get their worker back on their feet while juggling the workers’ comp claim and their other employees. The injured worker faces confusion about their medical needs while trying to heal from their injury and provide for their family. The carrier reviews the incident, deciding if it’s a compensable injury or not.

The nurse case manager’s job is to keep everyone updated and on task. The nurse educates injured workers on proper care, mediates between the employer and their worker, moderates the physician’s care plan, and negotiates with the employer and insurer to get the best care outcome while saving costs.

“The one thing I hear most is ‘I did not understand how serious this was until I had a conversation with the case manager,’” said Mann. “It’s not just about getting workers back to work; it’s about getting them to the best of their health so they can have a full life.”

An injured worker once called Mann with a complaint about his nurse case manager. He didn’t understand why he needed someone from the medical field who wasn’t his physician on his workers’ comp case.

Mann responded, saying she heard his concern and would like to address it head on. She put on her educator hat, prepared to help the worker understand the nurse’s role, but before they could sit down to talk, the worker called back.

“He said he jumped the gun. He was unaware of what exactly the nurse could do for him, which ended up being beyond his expectations,” said Mann. The worker had a series of comorbidities that pre-dated his injury, and the nurse case manager saw to it that those illnesses were addressed alongside his injury.

But it isn’t always that easy; while some underestimate the nurse case manager’s role, others expect more. If Mann sees tempers starting to rise, her first instinct is to review the case file and ask what is expected of the nurse.

“Sometimes, there is an expectation that the case manager can acquire information about non-work-related medical issues,” Mann said. “However, we are unable to secure this information without a signed medical release from the injured worker.”

“No matter the personality, everyone wants to know they are being heard and they have something to contribute to a situation.” — Chikita Mann, RN, Georgia branch supervisor, Genex Services

Mann explained that a hospital has no legal obligation to “hand over” a worker’s medical records, and the NCM is not able to demand the records be released. Both the hospital and a case manager need to abide by HIPAA.

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“Some states have specific laws on what a case manager can and cannot do,” said Mann. “For instance, in Georgia the injured worker and their attorney have to be copied on all correspondence, like reports or letters. It’s not an option — it is mandatory.”

Some employers, according to Mann, may feel that if something is related to their worker’s comp claim, the employer should be copied on correspondence as well, but that’s not always the case.

Keeping It All on Track

Maintaining knowledge that is both broad-based and highly specific, and carefully balancing the interests of all parties is all business as usual for highly focused NCMs.

“Workers’ comp case managing is challenging, because it requires knowledge from other case managing areas. We have to know workers’ comp jurisdiction and guidelines. We have to know about any comorbidities [in the patient],” said Mann.

“Field case managers need to understand a hospital’s discharge process. Sometimes they need to know how to utilize social work skills, serving as liaisons between different institutions and case parties to assist patients and collaborate with other health professionals.

“It’s structured flexibility,” Mann continued, using a term she coined. “There is a set way of doing case management, however a nurse needs flexibility to adapt to the scenario at hand.” &

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

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]