Column: Workers' Comp

Opinion: Shouldn’t Our Heroes Get the Right Treatment?

By: | April 9, 2018 • 2 min read

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Yet another mass school shooting targeting children, this time one that claimed 17 lives at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — has generated discourse about post-traumatic stress disorder in surviving students, educators and first responders.

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As the discussion expands, debate will likely include broader questions. Should PTSD be compensable for first responders? Will employees who witness co-workers die or get maimed in other horrific workplace accidents be covered? Their risk is just as great.

I want to add to the discourse on PTSD by sharing a personal story, and that of a workers’ comp colleague. We both believe we benefited from a treatment endorsed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for its effectiveness in treating PTSD.

The colleague, an RN, working as an occupational nurse, tried to save a co-worker’s life by administering CPR for 8 minutes. She also administered epinephrine after an allergic reaction closed off the co-worker’s airway.

Neither worked and arriving paramedics couldn’t save her. She turned blue and slipped away.

Memories of seeing the dying woman’s face and her pleas for her life haunted my colleague. She dreamed about not reaching the co-worker in time. She worried excessively that something would happen to her children, and she wouldn’t be there.

It’s not an entirely unique story. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 5,190 work-related deaths in 2016, the third consecutive spike in annual workplace fatalities.

Co-workers surely witnessed plenty of those tragedies. The Department of Labor reports that “critical-incident” witnesses may suffer from fear, guilt and chronic anxiety among other physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Memories of seeing the dying woman’s face and her pleas for her life haunted my colleague. She dreamed about not reaching the co-worker in time. She worried excessively that something would happen to her children, and she wouldn’t be there.

Fortunately my colleague benefited from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR is efficient, because it can help ease distressful memories after just a few sessions.

She sensed improvement after two sessions and underwent about six.

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I first benefited from EMDR applied to treat trauma experienced as a child. I am now better able to manage situations that previously caused unnecessary stress.

EMDR dampens the impact of negative emotions. A therapist guides a patient to recall and reprocess traumatic events while focusing on a back and forth movement or sound.

A few months after witnessing my wife pass away, I turned to EMDR to help soften the jagged edges those memories generate. They are still unpleasant memories, but not as rough.

Some comp payers fear that paying for such treatment could lead to a protracted psych claim.

But helping employees who witness workplace deaths is the right thing to do, especially when an efficient treatment is available, and their future productivity and attention to safety practices may depend on it. &

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]