5 Workers’ Comp Professionals Weigh in on How Much the Industry Has Changed

Risk & Insurance® asked five top workers' comp veterans about the most impactful innovations they've seen during their tenure in the industry.
By: | October 26, 2018 • 3 min read

We asked workers’ compensation professionals from award-winning institutions to tell us what they think are the most significant changes to the workers’ comp world since they started in the industry.

Below are their insights.

R&I: What do you think has been the most significant change or the most effective innovation that has occurred since you entered the workers’ comp profession?

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

Barbara Schultz

Former director of employee health and wellness, Valley Health

2017 Teddy Award Winner

The most effective innovation that has changed and improved the workers’ compensation world is technology. Technology has enabled us to look at the entire workers’ compensation continuum with new eyes and provides us not only a wide range of new tools for claims management, but also a vast array of analytics that measure our successes and opportunities. The most exciting part is that with the explosion of this technology, we can look forward to further improvements and outcomes not only for the employers but for the employees.

Senior editor, Risk & Insurance®; chair, National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo

Roberto Ceniceros

Senior editor, Risk & Insurance®; chair, National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo

Workers’ Compensation Columnist

Replacing human claims adjuster judgment with decision-making technology is without question the most significant change witnessed since I entered the workers’ comp industry many years ago. Many of its promises haven’t yet come to fruition. Some predictive modeling systems, for instance, left risk managers wondering what they gained. On the other hand, there are a number of reasons why automated decision-making will continue growing — worker hiring and retainment trends being one of them.

Frank Rivera, director, risk management and workers’ comp, Massachusetts Port Authority

Frank Rivera

Director, risk management and workers’ comp, Massachusetts Port Authority

2017 Teddy Award Winner

The sophistication of risk management software systems (RMIS) has been the largest industry innovation since my start as a claims adjuster 23 years ago. Back then, I spent my days staring at a spinach- green screen, which offered only the simplest functionality. A claims manager would refer to a written guide to determine next steps with little to no assistance from the system. Trend analysis required hours of time reviewing a report generated from a high-speed band printer. Organizations today have 24/7 access to systems that allow risk/claims managers the ability to pinpoint loss data that affects their company’s bottom line. Easily gathering data has allowed quicker corrective action to minimize or eliminate risks. Access to data has also assisted organizations with protecting their greatest asset — their employees.

Monica Manske, senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety, Rochester Regional Health

Monica Manske

 Senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety, Rochester Regional Health

2017 Teddy Award Winner

The evolution of technology pushed the most significant change in the industry and continues to do so. We went from a paper-pencil process for reporting injuries and completing state forms where we saw lag time upwards of 28 days to receive an event. These manual processes cause delays in our efforts to eliminate hazards in the workplace and more importantly limit our ability to help our employees get the treatment they need, enabling them to return to meaningful work. Now not only are the forms and processes available electronically; we have robust analytics and carrier information at our fingertips, can leverage portable devices and are now seeing growth in telemedicine and artificial intelligence. These advances streamlined the industry by providing real time information which enables us to provide a better employee experience and with innovation and standardization, more timely and informed decisions.

Susan Emerson, general manager, claims management, disability, leave and workers’ compensation claims, Delta Air Lines

Susan Emerson

General manager, claims management, disability, leave and workers’ compensation claims, Delta Air Lines

2017 Teddy Award Winner

Direct deposit for workers’ comp benefits regardless of the length of time for disability. It eliminates paper checks and relying on the snail mail. Some TPAs or claim administrators only offer direct deposit for injured workers that have anticipated claim durations longer than 4-6 weeks. However, if an employer sets it up in their HR data feed and enables automatic direct deposit for injured workers, then it can be done more quickly. Direct deposit also allows the employee to be reimbursed quickly for approved out-of-pocket expenses. &

The R&I Editorial Team 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.


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.


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]