2017 NWCDC

Shift Into Advocacy

The 2017 Teddy Award winners share their winning workers' comp strategies.
By: | December 8, 2017 • 2 min read

An undercurrent of mutual distrust between employers and injured workers has long marked the workers’ comp industry. That dynamic is giving way to an environment that fosters trust, drives better outcomes and reduces litigation.

This people-focused approach underpins the four programs honored with the 2017 Teddy Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. Leaders of the winning programs gathered on Dec. 7 at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas.

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

One of the most dramatic elements of Valley Health System’s program is an annual active shooter drill that is as effective as it is intense. Its most recent drill, in October, involved two active shooters, a hostage situation and officers firing blanks.

“The smell of gunfire, the sound of gunfire, left an impression on me that I’ll never forget,” said Barbara Schultz, the system’s director of employee health and wellness.

At the Massachusetts Port Authority, employees choose their own treating physicians, even though state law allows employers to direct care.

“By mandating that the first visit was with Dr. So-and-So, it immediately established an adversarial relationship,” said Frank Rivera, Massport’s director of risk management and workers’ comp.

“The smell of gunfire, the sound of gunfire, left an impression on me that I’ll never forget.” — Barbara Shultz, director of employee health and wellness, Valley Health System

Rochester Regional Health decided to tackle its slip and fall problem with a safety shoe program, but initial buy-in was low. The workers’ comp team engaged employees face to face and discovered they simply disliked the shoes, said Monica Manske, the system’s senior manager of workers’ comp and employee safety.

The system’s costly slip and fall injuries fell to zero in 2016.

Delta Air Lines has a formal employee advocacy program that’s focused on getting the best possible treatment. Delta, which expects employees to provide a high level of service to customers, is committed to giving its people the same, said Susan Emerson, general manager, claims management, disability, leave & work comp claims. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of 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.


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.


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]