2017 Teddy Award Winner

Getting It Right

Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

Imagine juggling an armful of flaming batons — all in different sizes. While blindfolded. And hopping on one foot.

That’s what it may have felt like a decade ago to lead the workers’ compensation program of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which owns and operates Boston Logan Airport and a number of additional airfields, as well as cargo and cruise ship terminals, piers and real estate holdings.

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Massport’s complex program covers 1,300 direct employees, plus hundreds of high-risk public safety employees, including police, firefighters and International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) union members working at Conley Terminal.

Every day, Massport faces issues related to multiple labor unions, a diverse mix of risk environments and hazards and a variety of state workers’ comp statutes that need to be navigated with utmost care.

Ten years ago the authority decided to stop juggling, and start managing — strategically reshaping a program that was largely fragmented.

Since then, Massport logged $21 million in savings, including more than $2 million in medical cost savings alone. It achieved significant reductions in frequency, severity, lost-time days and claims duration.

Time for a Change

When Frank Rivera took the position of director, risk management and workers’ compensation for Massport in 2007, the program was self-insured and self-administered within a different authority unit and suffered from structural problems, administrative burdens and decentralization. It also lacked the resources to capitalize on cost-containment programs and drive results.

Moreover, Massport’s risk management team struggled to obtain excess coverage for workers’ compensation exposures.

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

“Workers’ compensation is an insurance program, but Massport is not an insurance company. We didn’t have the tools to administrate a proper program internally,” Rivera said.

It became clear that collaboration would yield better results for the program and the Authority as a whole. Rivera led the charge to enlist the services of a third-party administrator (TPA), eventually selecting PMA Management Corp. of New England.

“Partnering with a TPA freed up resources to centralize, streamline and better manage the whole workers’ compensation process, including designing a new workflow to communicate with departments and employees.” Rivera said.

With everything under a single workers’ compensation umbrella, Massport eliminated a lot of confusion and inefficiency, creating greater transparency and communication between units rather than being hindered by silos.

The authority instituted weekly meetings attended by risk management, human resources, labor relations and the legal and safety departments. In addition to fostering collaboration on existing claims, the meeting helps keep all units focused on how tangible and intangible costs associated with workers’ comp can go off the rails if not managed appropriately, Rivera said.

Three years after the shift to a TPA, Massport made another significant move: transferring its program for one group of workers from a guaranteed cost policy to a self-insured program.

The risk management team had been considering the move for a while. Then the price for the guaranteed-cost program jumped from $1.9 to $3.9 million. The Massport team seized that opportunity to introduce the self-insured program — already successfully adopted for other groups within the workers’ comp program.

The change produced dramatic savings, and also helped to garner more union leadership buy-in for risk management, Rivera said. Better still, the self-insured program provides more control in addressing worker safety with the best possible methods, Rivera said, proving that Massport can save money while protecting workers.

Communication Is Key

Sheri Bowles, client services manager in the Waltham, Mass., office of PMA, said Rivera and his risk management team understand that it may not be possible for a work environment to be completely free from injuries.

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“Massport’s approach focuses on both what can be done to prevent incidents from occurring in the future and ensuring injured workers obtain prompt medical treatment,” Bowles said. “Prompt medical treatment is vital for injured workers’ recovery and helps facilitate a safe return to work.”

To that end, Massport and PMA have “continuous communication” throughout the claims process — beginning with timely reporting of each injury through claim resolution.

Better communication also has been the key to getting all stakeholders on board with the authority’s return-to-work goals.

Ten years ago, managers would often allow workers to linger off work because it was simply less complicated.

But Rivera and his team now make managers part of the solution, making sure they have the necessary information about an injured workers’ capabilities, appointments and expected injury durations.

“I think the only way to have a successful program is to view our employees as our most valuable assets.” — Frank Rivera, director, risk management and workers’ compensation, Massachusetts Port Authority

That allows managers to plan better for the distribution of tasks and manages everyone’s expectations. All but one of Massport units now have modified duty programs — and that one exception addresses it by a collective bargaining agreement. Massport’s successful return-to-work efforts have helped the authority obtain excess coverage more readily and negotiate lower rates from carriers.

Massport’s commitment to employees’ health and safety — a mandate within its workers’ comp program — is drilled “from the top-down,” Rivera said.

“I think the only way to have a successful program is to view our employees as our most valuable assets,” he said. “Massport insures physical assets like buildings and vehicles, and I believe it only makes sense that the same approach be extended to employees.”

“Our collective efforts ensure that Massport’s vision is executed and its goals are achieved,” Bowles said, which also applies to Massport’s philosophy on getting the very best treatment for its people.

While the organization participates in a medical cost reduction network, Massport doesn’t require that workers get treated by a network doctor.

It will recommend qualified providers with a proven track record, but allows workers to seek treatment elsewhere if they feel an alternate provider is better suited to return them to work sooner, Rivera said.

In addition, Massport provides a medical case manager, or a nurse, to help workers get treatment if it’s not readily available in their area.

“Working to provide employees with the right tools in a properly managed structure helps employees, in most cases, return to work sooner,” Rivera said.

“By our accounts this approach also helps Massport lower its overall medical costs per case.”

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Rivera’s statements receive substantial support if you look at the data. The changes implemented at Massport lowered its medical costs about 50 percent per claim.

“From our vantage point, assembling the right tools, continuous communications with injured employees and being attentive to their medical needs can help you lower your cost — a win-win for the employee and the organization,” he said.

Rivera believes the success of any program requires collaboration between injured employees, leadership and the people and tools offered by the workers’ compensation program.

“This team approach creates the best success — and that approach is why I want to thank my team and everyone else at Massport who helped make these positive results happen,” he said. &

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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.

 

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. 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]