2020 Risk All Star: Kurt Leisure

How The Cheesecake Factory’s Risk Manager Completely Revitalized Its Workers’ Comp Program — Bringing with It Stunning Results

Kurt Leisure, vice president of risk services and asset protection, The Cheesecake Factory

Kurt Leisure knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go for it when he sees an opportunity to grow.

“I have always been someone who is interested in learning more and more, and because of that, our operations continue to grow and evolve,” he said. “The more I seek to understand all the pieces of our business, the more I can help develop programs that protect the company from risk.”

As the Cheesecake Factory’s vice president of risk services and asset protection, Leisure has put this desire to learn and improve toward many initiatives that have not only saved the company claims costs but also placed a large emphasis on safety for all employees.

His efforts began in 2016, with an overhaul of the restaurant franchise’s workers’ compensation program.

“I had a conversation with the chief financial officer,” Leisure explained. The CFO was surprised to see an insurance premium invoice with higher-than-expected workers’ comp costs. “He invited me to rethink our approach,” said Leisure.

From there, Leisure began his research. He got involved with the California Coalition on Workers’ Comp, reviewing comp legislation and understanding the genesis of many workers’ comp laws. This effort to understand the way a workers’ comp law is interpreted proved a vital lesson, he said, as was teaming up with claims administrator CorVel.

“They sat down with me and asked about my goals for the company. They worked to understand our culture to better design a program that felt custom tailored to the Cheesecake Factory,” he said.

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“Kurt is constantly thinking one step ahead of the rest of us,” said Diane Blaha, CorVel’s chief marketing officer. During the first round of program upgrades, the Cheesecake Factory became more of an integrated program that included a 24/7 nurse triage line, telehealth, bill review, pharmacy solutions and more.

The nurse triage line was especially rewarding to the Cheesecake Factory, because every food item ordered at one of its restaurants is made from scratch. That means a lot of slicing and dicing, and, consequently, a higher risk of cuts and lacerations.

In the last year, Leisure dug deeper on nurse triage costs and found that the team could improve even more.

“We found that the nurses were directing workers to an outside urgent care facility for laceration treatment,” he said. But many of these lacerations were minor and did not require sutures or stitches. “We saw a miscommunication between our nurse triage program and our injured workers.”

His solution? Training.

“Together with CorVel, we brought together a group of nurses who were given in-depth training on cuts and burn injuries, such that they became the expert on the right questions to ask in those instances.”

They also created a line of communication that enabled employees to send in a photo of their injury to the nurse triage line. “We now have this established system where nurses, who are experts in these types of injuries, are highly trained to identify the treatment needed.”

This has significantly reduced open claims for the Cheesecake Factory — by nearly 50% — as well as opened the door for improvement industrywide.

“Kurt really saw the value of the nurse triage program for his employees,” Blaha said. “He’s an expert in the workers’ comp market, as well as the restaurant space. His program, his management and his results have been used to set the standard within the industry. He is the first to share his thoughts and offer his opinion.

“He truly wants others to enjoy the same success, outcomes and pride he has in his program,” she said. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2020 Risk All Stars.

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