Nurse Case Manager Chronicles

The Fragility of Life

When routine surgery went awry and upended a workers' life, her nurse case manager guided her through physical and emotional recovery.
By: | February 1, 2018 • 7 min read

In the blink of an eye, a routine case can turn into a catastrophic claim. And when it happens, nurse case managers lead the push to help the patient recover — physically and emotionally.

A worker — a registered nurse — tore her rotator cuff while moving a patient. It’s a common injury among nurses, and she filed for workers’ compensation. Before surgery, she met with her nurse case manager to review the case and the therapy she would need afterwards.

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But her routine surgery became her worst nightmare when she coded on the operating table.

“She coded a couple of times,” said Becky Mills, a nurse and certified case manager with Ascential Care Partners, headquartered in Lexington, Ky.

In medical terms, this means the patient went into cardiorespiratory arrest, which required CPR to bring her back. After surgery, the patient was placed in critical care on ventilators.

During surgery, the patient’s blood pressure skyrocketed, Mills explained. Medications were administered to lower the spike, but instead of stabilizing the patient, the medications led to her coding. She suffered a stroke.

Mills said it wasn’t clear whether coding led to the stroke or if the stroke led to coding. Either way, the patient fought for her life.

“It was a dim prognosis; there were times I didn’t know if I’d see her out of that hospital,” she said.

But, said Mills, she had an amazing support system and pulled through.

From Crisis to Care

Mills didn’t know what had happened at first.

“I called the day after surgery to check in,” she said. Mills believed her patient was still recovering from a routine rotator cuff repair. When no one answered the phone, she left a message and brushed it off. “It was the day after surgery. Sometimes people are still groggy.”

When she called the next day and received no answer, she knew something was up. The patient’s husband called to tell Mills about the stroke.

“The employer didn’t even know,” she added. The NCM had to inform them of their employee’s condition.

Becky Mills, RN, certified case manager, Ascential Care Partners

Mills met with the patient’s husband in the ICU, determined to get medical records in order and help ease his worry.

“For a while, it was maintaining contact and communicating with the employer,” she said. The employer was investigating the incident, deciding whether or not the stroke and subsequent care would be considered under the workers’ compensation claim already in place.

During this time of uncertainty, the husband told Mills it was nice to have a neutral body there, someone who could handle the work-related needs while coordinating care options for his wife. He told Mills she made him feel safe.

Mills encouraged the husband to speak to his wife while she remained on the ventilators. She also encouraged him to connect with family, friends and their minister, keeping them in the loop and creating a system of support during his wife’s recovery.

The employer, who was self-insured, decided that the ongoing treatment would be covered.

“It was ruled compensable due to the fact she was undergoing surgery for a work-related claim,” said Mills. “The employer and TPA were fabulous in their support.”

When the patient stabilized, she was sent to a rehabilitation center for recuperation. After around three weeks, Mills decided she needed to be placed in a specialized facility where she could receive more aggressive therapy.

The patient had paralysis on her right side. She was aphasic, meaning her speech was limited to short sentences or repeated phrases, and her reading comprehension was low. Mills recommended sending the patient to Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation facility five hours away from where the patient and her family lived.

“Shepherd is on top of the newest research,” said Mills. It specializes in brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. “Each team meets weekly per patient — occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, physicians, nurses — they all work together. It’s a consistent meeting. It’s structured.”

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This type of hands-on care, she said, was what the patient needed most, but the patient was hesitant to go so far away from home. She had her good and bad days, said Mills. The stroke had really left a pressing mark on the patient and her confidence was shaken. Leaving her family behind was a tough decision to make.

But Mills persevered.

“Patients thrive at Shepherd,” she said. The NCM approached the patient’s husband and explained why the center was the best scenario and best chance for his wife’s recovery. He successfully convinced her to go.

Keeping Active

The patient remained at Shephard for two months.

“They would call me with what was going on,” said Mills. Communication between the center and the NCM was paramount in keeping the case moving forward and getting the patient back to her life. Mills was able to inform the patient’s employer on her progress and began coordinating home care before the patient even left the facility thanks to the continued line of communication.

When Shepherd saw the patient progressing in therapy, they moved her from a hospital room to an apartment on the center’s campus.

“That was key in helping her progress from feeling like a patient to living in the real world,” said Mills.

At home, Mills set up a full-time home care worker to be with the patient while she continued her occupational, physical and speech therapies, because the patient lived in a rural area and her therapies were about an hour away.

“Her husband would take her at first, but then the care giver would,” said Mills. “Her confidence was so shaken — just to talk to somebody would make her freeze up. As she got better, her confidence, independence and self-esteem improved.”

When OT, PT and speech therapy came to an end, however, it proved another hurdle for Mills’ patient.

“She came to the realization she had reached her maximum in therapy,” said Mills. The patient had gained back more of her speech but was still aphasic. She had learned how to use her left hand instead of her right, which was her dominant hand before the stroke, and her reading capability had returned, albeit slower than the patient expected.

“This was where she was going to be. She had to grieve for the loss of her life as it had been. But I told her that her life still had meaning and purpose. She could not give up. We would all be there to help her, but she needed to continue to do things around the house, in her church and in her community.”

A patient who lost use of her right hand began coloring to master control of her left hand.

With time and a lot of support from her husband, the patient did just that.

“She’s coloring,” said Mills. The pages the patient colors are from mandala designs, intricate and detailed patterns that are small and precise in shape. The patient, said Mills, has been coloring with her left hand, completely in the lines, and has sent Mills some of her finished pieces.

“Unfortunately, she will not work as a nurse due to the aphasia and limited use of her right hand,” said Mills. But she is able to volunteer at a local nursing home, where she helps with crafts and hands out refreshments.

“She even brings the mandala coloring books and pens for them to use, and they all work on them together,” she said.

Volunteering has opened the door for this patient to continue to recover mentally and emotionally. “She feels like she’s a part of something and is helpful and useful.”

Throughout recovery, Mills spoke with the husband on how to keep the patient active and push her to be as independent as possible. Her husband, said Mills, is the patient’s number one cheerleader.

Valuing Each Day

“We have the greatest impact when we get the file early on, so we can be there from the very beginning,” said Mills. She likes the face-to-face aspect of nurse case managing, where she sees her patients’ progress from day one till recovery.

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With this particular case, being there from the start was key in getting the patient back on her feet.

Insurers and employers, said Mills, have a bottom line — cost. But sometimes having the NCM on board from the start of injury can have a greater impact. The benefits of their service far outweigh the costs, she said.

“This patient went in thinking she was going to have a routine repair and would be back to work,” said Mills. “Aside from the physical [injury and recovery], I’ve learned a lot about the emotional impact and the fragility of life. But there is always tomorrow. It’s beautiful to see how she’s opened back up.”

When the stroke first happened, Mills recalled the patient’s husband was never frustrated or angry.

“He said he’s so grateful that she’s alive and that taught me something, too,” said Mills.

“It isn’t about what you had or what’s been taken away, it’s about what you do with what you’ve got now.” &

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

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]