Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Treat the Individual, Not the Stigma

By: | April 20, 2015 • 2 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

The recent tragedy of the crashed Germanwings flight and the deaths of 150 people raise a number of workplace concerns about employees with mental illness, including depression.

Depression is a common disease. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of “current depression” in the U.S. general population averages about 9 percent, with state rates ranging from 4.8 percent in North Dakota to 14.8 percent in Mississippi.

Any disease of this scale and scope poses risks; risks to individuals, risks to families and risks to employers.

If we learn anything from the Germanwings tragedy, it’s that mental illness, like all illness, is normal. It can be situational, acute or chronic.

So what can employers do to reduce those risks?

First, we must think and act as though mental illness is just that, an illness, a disease. And by the way, that’s what the law says. But stigma attached to mental illness has not gone away.

As a matter of fact, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition, stigma around mental health is not decreasing among employers.

Only when society, and not just employers, treat mental illness like “any other disease” will screening and treatment become effective. Many employees give false information about their mental state to avoid the potential negative workplace repercussions of mental illness.

Screening tools are most effective when employees truly believe revealing mental health issues is an avenue that will help them access treatment options so they can better perform their jobs.

Employers in particular need to become educated about recognizing signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. This alone sends a powerful message that mental illness, like all illness, respects no title or position.

Next, employers should make better use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). In the DMEC 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey, fully 97 percent of employers surveyed had an EAP program. But as prevalent as EAPs are, they are woefully underutilized.

Employers must do a better job of communicating the services they provide and continue to emphasize that they can be used confidentially with no impact on an employee’s work status — just like any other health care service.

When employers effectively communicate about EAPs, the results are impressive. How a company uses an EAP reflects the diversity of its organization, employees, market and other HR resources.

Although detailed EAP performance statistics are limited, studies suggest that employer-sponsored EAPs can reduce company disability, medical, pharmacy and workers’ compensation costs.

If we learn anything from the Germanwings tragedy, it’s that mental illness, like all illness, is normal. It can be situational, acute or chronic.

We need to offer unfettered treatment for mental illness that doesn’t imply or make the individual feel something is “wrong with them.” And we need to have more education and training in the workplace and in our schools to identify the high-risk individual that has the potential to wreak havoc on the workplace or public.

It is sad that we find out after an event that an individual had significant mental issues and we didn’t see the signs or symptoms. When we all embrace that fact, we can effectively identify this illness, treat it, and reduce the risks it imposes on all of us.

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]