Opinion | We Need to Do a Better Job Taking Care of the Children of Injured Workers

By: | January 2, 2019 • 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.

You would think there is a scarcity of injured workers the way a non-profit organization struggles to award college scholarships to children of those befallen by catastrophic workplace accidents.

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U.S. Department of Labor statistics show an average of 14 worker fatalities every day while 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illness occurred last year. So clearly, there is no shortage of families whose worlds get upended when workplace disasters claim a parent’s life or derail their ability to financially support their children.

Plenty of those families could benefit from scholarships from Kids’ Chance of America and its state affiliates. Kids’ Chance secures scholarship funding from workers’ compensation businesses.

But a workers’ comp system too inflexible to dispense kindness and assistance beyond providing minimally mandated benefits stands in the way of finding children to benefit from the scholarships. Adjuster and nurse case manager workloads, fear of violating privacy regulations, and lack of awareness that the help is available stymie developing a pipeline of scholarship funds flowing to potential recipients.

Regulators, workers’ comp claims organization CEOs, adjusters, nurse case managers, school guidance counselors, insurers and state workers’ comp agencies all could help.

They could assist with various efforts aimed at referring the families of deceased or injured workers to Kids’ Chance, no matter the age of a claimant’s children. The organization maintains a contact database for alerting young children when they eventually reach higher-education age.

Or, if CEOs and others have the authority, the could require claims adjusters and other front-line claims workers to inform families about connecting with Kid’s Chance scholarships.

Adding one more duty to an overloaded claims adjuster’s check list is a challenge. But leaving it up to front-line claims staff to voluntarily alert families about scholarship opportunities often fails.

Claims organizations also fear violating privacy regulations. Although, too much caution prevents allowable actions, like handing out Kids’ Chance contact information or website address to families.

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show an average of 14 worker fatalities every day while 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illness occurred last year. So clearly, there is no shortage of families whose worlds get upended when workplace disasters claim a parent’s life or derail their ability to financially support their children.

And families with young children near the time of an accident are not thinking of education needs years off in the future.

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But connecting children with Kids’ Chance scholarships can produce amazing results.

Alexandra Kurnath was a college freshman studying for final exams when her mother called with news of a car accident that put her father in a coma while traveling on business.

The accident “impacted my family in every way possible,” Kurnath told the 2018 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference during it’s opening day breakfast in December.

A Kid’s Chance scholarship lifted the financial burden off Kurnath’s mom, allowing the student to return to school and earn a degree in human relations. She now works for an HR software company.

Help create more stories like Kurnath’s by leveraging the capacity within your workers’ comp purview to help Kid’s Chance raise funds and reach more kids. Information on the organization and how to connect scholarship recipients can be found here&

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]