Nurse Case Manager Chronicles

The Injured Worker’s Family

Incidents at work affect more than the injured. How can a nurse case manager help the family cope?
By: | January 10, 2018 • 4 min read

Wendy Woodard knows what it takes to get a catastrophic case moving. In just six months, this nurse case manager for Ascential Care got an injured patient back on his feet and cleared for work without restrictions.

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But the road leading to recovery wasn’t always smooth; like in many claims cases, Woodard had her fair share of obstacles to overcome.

“Nurses work with the patient’s family emotionally so they can get the patient where they need to be,” she said. “This [particular patient’s] family did not work in the medical field. They were worried about him being placed so far away with no one around him.”

The patient, a pharmacist by profession, was driving when a tree fell on his vehicle, cracking the roof of the car — and his skull.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a spinal fracture, pulmonary contusions and facial fractures, among other ailments. Woodard went to the hospital two days after the patient was admitted to the ICU.

His condition was critical.

“I didn’t know the extent of his injuries until I got there,” she said. “The hospital was still trying to stabilize the patient.”

Immediately, Woodard began coordinating the best care option for the patient. They lived in an area with a level one trauma center but not a rehabilitation center for traumatic brain injuries. The nurse knew the patient’s best chance at recovery would be at Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta, Georgia — five and a half hours away.

Wendy Woodard, nurse case manager, Ascential Care

The family was hesitant.

“The patient was in his late fifties. He had four children, a brother and his ex-wife waiting for him. There was a lot of back and forth on who would manage his care,” Woodard explained.

The patient’s oldest daughter and his brother both wanted to be the go-to person for decisions, but they found the long trip to Shepherd daunting. They didn’t want their loved one so far away during a critical and demanding time in his life.

Woodard, a nurse case manager for 18 years, knew what to do: She talked to the family.

“We talked about not having the right rehab facility. If he was going to make a full recovery, we had to get him where he needed to be,” she said. “My role was to provide them with knowledge on brain injuries and get the right care to the patient.”

She brought in pamphlets, pulled up Internet searches on the patient’s injuries, explained each type of fracture to the family and answered questions. But Woodard didn’t stop with facts; she entered the hospital every day for three weeks, checking in on the family’s emotional state.

“I was there, every day, offering emotional support,” she said. “The patient’s daughter cried on my shoulder. We went over and over what his best options were.”

In the end, the family agreed to send him to Shepherd.

Recuperation and Recovery

Once the patient was stabilized — a process that took three weeks — he was moved to the rehab facility.

When he started to respond, Woodard said the team assessed any permanent damage. The injury left the patient with permanent left-side facial paralysis and cranial nerve deficits. He had lost hearing in his left ear, was dizzy, disoriented and discouraged.

“He wouldn’t speak, was withdrawn and depressed,” said Woodard. The team worried about the patient’s cognitive function. As a pharmacist, the man needed to gain back his cognitive abilities if he wanted to work in the field again. Woodard noted he was a very intelligent man, and, after three weeks, he started to understand.

“It’s remarkable how well he did. He was very determined.”

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Slowly but surely, the patient regained his speech and other cognitive functions back, and he transferred to a half-way house. Woodard coordinated with the physical therapist and the occupational therapist, setting up appointments and monitoring progress. She worked with the claims adjuster to guarantee the patient’s schedule for checkups with his neurologist.

By the time the patient returned home, the nurse had his appointments set, eliminating delays in care.

“My goal is always to get my patient back to work and back to a normal life, because that’s the best thing for them,” Woodard said.

Six months after the injury, doctors cleared the pharmacist for a return to work with no restrictions.

“I do not think he would have gained his cognitive skills if the family hadn’t agreed to move him,” she said. “The educational role nurses play is so important to the family.” &

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

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]