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Brains Not Brawn

The co-morbidities of age and weight compound a case involving a stubborn and injured construction foreman.
By: | March 19, 2015 • 11 min read
Topics: Risk Scenarios
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.

The Injury

The scenario begins with the brief video below:

 

A Grey Area

For five weeks, Mike lives in a grey area populated by denial and tentative healthcare delivery.  Mike reports his injury to his employer and is referred to an occupational medicine specialist. The specialist prescribes Vicodin, a pain killer and Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory.

Mike also discusses light duty alternatives with his employer. Mike tries light duty, taking a stab at acting as a carpenter’s assistant, essentially, cleaning up and doing menial work like sweeping up sawdust and chucking small pieces of wood into the dumpster.

Mike is plagued by pain, and acting against the advice of the occupational medicine specialist, he starts taking two to three Vicodin a day on the job to manage. Buffered by the Vicodin, Mike ignores the verbal agreement he has with his employer and begins to use his shoulder harder.

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Partner

At one point, frustrated with the inaccurate work of an underling, Mike picks up a circular saw and starts making cuts to beams and other hefty pieces of wood.

After six weeks, Mike’s pain hasn’t gotten any better and under pressure from Mike’s employer, Mike’s occupational medicine specialist refers him to an orthopedic specialist.

At the orthopedic surgeon’s office, Mike is sitting on the examination table with the doctor standing before him.

The doctor, a much smaller man than Mike, places his right hand on Mike’s left wrist.

“Okay, try to lift your arm,” the doctor says.

Mike tries to lift his arm with the doctor pushing down against him but is struggling.

“You’re very weak in the shoulder,” the doctor says. “I’m afraid you have a substantial rotator cuff tear but we’ll order an MRI just to be sure,” the doctor says.

“What if it’s torn, what then?” Mike says.

“You’re looking at surgery with a minimum of six months off of work,” the doctor says.

Scenario_BrainsNotBrawn“Six months? Why?” says Mike.

“Rehabilitation from rotator cuff surgery isn’t easy. You could have some setbacks. I’m giving you a conservative estimate,” the orthopedic surgeon says.

“Why operate at all?” says Mike.

“You can’t walk around with a rotator cuff tear in your line of work for any period of time,” the doctor says.

“It’s way too risky for a man your age.”

“I’m only 54, Doc,” Mike says gamely.

“At your age, honestly, you’re going to have to be very diligent in rehab to bring this thing back all the way,” the doctor says, tapping Mike lightly on his injured left shoulder.

The MRI confirms what the doctor felt to be true. Mike has a full thickness tear of his rotator cuff.

“You see that?” the doctor says to Mike as they look at the MRI image together.

“Looks like it’s torn all the way through,” Mike says.

“Yes it is,” the surgeon says. “We need to set a date to operate. And as I said during our last visit, you’re going to have to be diligent in rehab to bring this shoulder back successfully.

A New Reality

As a former high school wrestler and carpenter, Mike is accustomed to injury and injury recovery. It seemed like he recovered from a torn meniscus in his right knee during his wrestling days in a matter of weeks.

Scenario_BrainsNotBrawn

In his twenties, he broke a finger in his right hand in a bar fight in Muscatine, Iowa.

In his thirties, he broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot when he rolled his ankle over a log while dove hunting near Lake Okochobee.

Each time he came back fine. Over the years, Mike developed a quiet confidence that his strong body will never fail him.

But one look at Mike as he sits on his living room couch with his left arm in a sling says that this time might be very different. He’s four weeks post surgery and he’s already gained 20 pounds. Post surgery, his doctor gave him a generous prescription of Oxycontin, 80 pills. Mike still has 50 of those pills, a fact he is keeping from his wife and his doctor.

“Really honey?” his wife says as she stands in the living room doorway watching Mike open another beer as he watches a Florida State football game.

There are three finished beers on the coffee table in front of Mike.  “What?” Mike says as he takes a sip of beer.

“You know what,” his wife says. “You’ve been drinking a lot more beer since you’ve been off work.”

“Not really,” Mike says.

His wife walks closer to Mike and peers into a pizza box.

“You ate that entire pizza?”

“Thin crust,” Mike says by way of a joke.

His wife pauses, not enjoying the joke.

“Are you still taking painkillers? Because you know you shouldn’t be drinking and taking that prescription.”

“Nah, I dumped ‘em in the garbage. I don’t need ‘em anymore.” Mike says.

“Hummmph,” his wife says, not pleased with the whole picture and seeming to doubt Mike’s word.

“What about your physical therapy exercises that you’re supposed to be doing at home?”

“I’m doin’ ‘em,” Mike says.

“When?” his wife asks him.

Mike glares at his wife and she reacts.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she says, crossing her arms.

Scenario_BrainsNotBrawn“You think I’m being a nag. Well I’ve got news for you Mike Manning. Just because I care enough to ask after your health doesn’t make me a nag!”

As soon as she leaves the room, Mike fishes in his pocket and brings out a vial of pills.

With practiced dexterity, Mike uses his slinged left hand to hold the pill bottle while he wrests the top off with his right. Mike pops a pill in his mouth and washes it down with a slug of beer.

Mike had initially taken the painkillers according to the instructions on the bottle. But two months into his recovery, he’s now ingesting twice that amount on a daily basis.

***

Back at his doctor’s office, six weeks post-op, Mike’s shirt is off while the doctor checks his range of motion and his strength.

“Okay, stand up and raise your arm as high as you can,” the doctor says.

Mike gamely raises his arm, but he can’t raise his hand above chest height.

“Keep working hard in therapy,” the doctor says. “How’s your pain?”

Mike gives a pain rating of eight over ten. Excess pain behavior.

“Eh, it still hurts, especially when I’m trying to sleep,” he says.

“Okay, we started you on Oxycontin but I’m going to see if you can get by on Vicodin,” the doctor says.

“Sounds good,” Mike says, avoiding eye contact with the doctor.  Mike still has a renewal on his Oxycontin and he’s happily envisioning doubling up with Oxycontin and Vicodin even before the doctor has put pen to paper to write him a new prescription.

Mike flexes his knee.

“My right knee has started to hurt too,” Mike says. “Don’t know what’s up with that.”

The doctor looks at Mike as Mike flexes the knee.

“It looks like you’ve picked up a considerable amount of weight since you’ve been off Mike. That could be affecting your knee.”

“Yeah, probably so,” Mike said, patting his gut affectionately.

“How’s rehab going?” the doctor says. “You doing the home exercises they’re giving you?”

“Eh…sure,” Mike says.

From the doctor’s expression, he’s not too convinced.

Six months post-injury, Margorie Kessel, a claims supervisor for Mike’s employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, has a look at Mike’s file and does not like what she sees.

“His opioid use is like a runaway train,” Margorie says to herself.

“I’m going to put a nurse on this case.”

Off the Rails

Nine months post-injury, Mike is at physical therapy, lying on his back while a therapist works on his shoulder.

Scenario_BrainsNotBrawn

The physical therapist is holding Mike’s left arm and trying to gain more range of motion by steadily pushing Mike’s shoulder past where it wants to go.

The therapist is straining, and from the expression on his face, even nine months past injury, Mike is experiencing serious pain in the shoulder.

“Wow,” the therapist says.

“You’re as tight now as you were three months ago.”

“I know,” Mike says without much conviction.

The therapist sheds her sweatshirt.

“You’re giving me a workout,” she says. She picks up Mike’s arm again and resumes work.

Just then, another patient shouts out to Mary.

“Hey Mary, can you come over here? I’m not sure what to do on this exercise ball,” the other patient says.

“Sure, just a sec, Mary says.

“Here Mike,” so some work with this hand weight and I’ll be right back.”

The therapist leaves Mike and he continues on with the hand weight.

The therapist comes back.

“Sorry about that. Where were we?” But instead of picking up Mike’s left arm she picks up his right arm.

“It’s the left arm,” Mike says impatiently.

“Oh, right, sorry about that,” the therapist says.

“Okay, let’s see here,” she says, picking up Mike’s left arm.

She strains again, trying to get some motion out of the stiff joint.

She pauses, tuckered out.

“Are you sure you’re doing those home exercises I’ve been giving you?” she says.  How many times is he doing it? How many times are you doing it?  He can’t remember.

“You’re just not making the progress I’d hoped you would at this point.”

“I’m doin’ ‘em,” Mike says, again, somewhat unconvincingly.

Just then, another patient calls out for help from the overworked therapist.

“Hey Mary, am I doing this leg extension correctly?”

“Um, let me see,” Mary says, as Mike rolls his eyes impatiently.

“Hold on a sec, sorry,” Mary says as she puts Mike’s arm down again.

Mike lies on the table for another couple of minutes as the therapist gets caught up in the other patient’s questions.

Mike looks over to the therapist, working on the other patient.

“That’s it,” he says. “I’m out of here.”

Despite his weight and his gimpy knee, Mike slides off of the table and leaves, limping as he goes.

“Mike! Mike! Where are you going?” Mary says.

“Out! I’m going out of here! I’ve had it!” Mike says.

Three months later, Margorie Kessel is taking another look at Mike’s file.

“So now we’ve got a frozen shoulder.  Probably looking at a six-figure settlement for permanent disability. And he’s still at the drugstore,” she says.

“What the heck happened to this claim?”

The Session

This scenario was originally presented at the 2014 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas.

As part of the discussion, panelists discussed key aspects presented in the scenario.

Panelists included Dr. Robert Goldberg, chief medical officer, Healthesystems; and Dr. Kurt Hegmann, Associate Professor, The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health. The session was moderated by Tracey Davanport, director, National Managed Care, Argonaut Insurance.

Insights from their discussion are highlighted below:

 

 

 




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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]