Can ‘Ebola-mania’ Give Way to a National Reset?
Ebola is not a new contagion and it is one for which the United States has been preparing for since at least post-9/11 heightened bioterrorism concerns.
While some may be critical of the care provided to the first patient with Ebola in Dallas, as well as resulting communication issues involving hospital and medical officials, clearly all involved intended to do their very best under uniquely stressful conditions that rarely any American hospital had faced before.
In what will surely be a repeating pattern in the near-term, American hospitals, clinics and doctors, as well as employers and other entities will continue to periodically encounter individuals that have acquired the Ebola virus and require treatment. The country will also have periods where there may be no known cases.
As of Nov. 11, and for the first time in 41 days since the initial U.S. patients, there were no known cases of Ebola in the U.S. That was short-lived as within days thereafter a surgeon who had contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa was transferred to the United States for treatment, but unfortunately the patient died.
I believe we should attempt a national “reset” to manage this public health issue in America — based on science and evidence.
In order to do so, it is important to understand the causative factors leading to the arguably explicable initial national panic surrounding Ebola. In the early moments of a risk crisis, leaders get limited chances to establish credibility and trust. The populace and media want to know the risk is understood and under control.
Early slips in Dallas failed this test, as I mention in my first article on this subject.
While some may feel on edge with regard to changing CDC guidance, in fact, the CDC is adjusting to new information and changing their guidelines appropriately; not dissimilar to how managers of risk adjust to any hazard exposure.
As managers of risk, we should be assessing the risks Ebola presents.
Ebola is really no different than other significant risks (e.g., terrorism post-9/11, Y2K, swine flu, grounding of certain airplanes).
There is a common pattern that moves from initial organic obsession to an easing, understanding, and respect of the risk that becomes balanced with other important considerations such as civil liberties, promoting international health, and maintaining world economic balance, for examples in the context of contagion risks.
For the emerging risk of Ebola in America, we are at a pivotal point to learn from the recent past and venture forward with the best of science and evidence-based risk management.
Will America press the reset? As risk managers, we stand in an influential position within our organizations to utilize the proven methods and tools of managing enterprise risks, including contagion risk.
As such, risk managers are in a unique position to lead with others; to reset the response to the Ebola virus in our unique national microcosm and move to a balanced American view appropriately and respectfully managing our interests while simultaneously attending to world health risk issues, especially in West Africa.
Read all of Jeff Driver’s Risk Insider articles.
A Failure of Trust
‘Ebola-mania’ is my term for significant reactions to known public health and risk management issues associated with the Ebola virus.
The arrival of Ebola in the United States has been marked by fever-pitch reactions of alarm that ranged from cries for international travel bans, school closings, state-required quarantines of individuals, airport passenger health screenings, and even calls for national nursing union labor strikes over claimed unsafe hospital working conditions.
Now, let’s take a big collective national breath. Could it be that what first appeared to be a public health crisis turned out to be more of a significant crisis in public confidence?
Could it be that for America, Ebola is not as significant a risk as it is for the far less advanced medical systems in West Africa where over 5,000 people have died after contracting the virus?
But this fall, in different ways, U.S. hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and federal governments arguably failed to fully establish credibility with a hungry media and scared public, exacerbating what should have been a manageable Ebola outbreak.
A trifecta of public confidence shaking moves occurred when missteps were made in treating the first U.S. Ebola patient, accurately communicating with the public, and protecting treating medical providers from contracting the virus.
First, a patient with a history of fever and travel from West Africa was discharged from a hospital back into the community. Then, information about the patient’s temperature being no greater than the CDC threshold of 101.5 degrees to trigger a serious Ebola concern had to be corrected; and once the patient was readmitted, officials failed to clearly explain delays in blood transfusion from an Ebola survivor and the administration of an experimental drug (Brincidofovir), both which had shown promise in treating Ebola.
Perhaps most alarming, the involved hospital has not been able to explain how two of its nurses contracted the virus, instead seeming to point the finger at the CDC for frequently changing protective gear guidelines and “frustrating” hospital employees and management.
Subsequent blows to public confidence stemmed from uncertainties around CDC guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers and the 21-day quarantine guideline for individuals exposed to the Ebola virus.
First, with regard to PPE: After two nurses in Dallas tested positive for the Ebola virus, the CDC changed PPE guidelines to ensure there would be no ambiguity about leaving no skin exposure. It detailed step-by-step instructions to put on and take off the equipment safely, as well as the necessity of having a trained monitor to supervise the process.
Then, there are the still unresolved questions surrounding the necessity of a 21-day quarantine for individuals potentially exposed to the Ebola virus.
The several different approaches to contain the virus from individual states, the CDC and the military have not been resolved, and the current interim CDC recommendations at this point are based on transmission risk assessment.
In part II of this article on Ebola, I will focus on the way risk managers should reset the response to Ebola.
Read all of Jeff Driver’s Risk Insider articles.
A Modern Claims Philosophy: Proactive and Integrated
According to some experts, “The best claim is the one that never happens.”
But is that even remotely realistic?
Experienced risk professionals know that in the real world, claims and losses are inevitable. After all, it’s called Risk Management, not Risk Avoidance.
And while no one likes losses, there are rich lessons to be gleaned from the claims management process. Through careful tracking and analysis of losses, risk professionals spot gaps in their risk control programs and identify new or emerging risks.
Aspen Insurance embraces this philosophy by viewing the data and expertise of their claims operation as a valuable asset. Unlike more traditional carriers, Aspen Insurance integrates their claims professionals into all of their client work – from the initial risk assessment and underwriting process through ongoing risk management consulting and loss control.
This proactive and integrated approach results in meaningful reductions to the frequency and severity of client losses. But when the inevitable does happen, Aspen Insurance claims professionals utilize their established understanding of client risks and operations to produce some truly amazing solutions.
“I worked at several of the most well known and respected insurance companies in my many years as a claims executive. But few of them utilize an approach that is as innovative as Aspen Insurance,” said Stephen Perrella, senior vice president, casualty claims, at Aspen Insurance.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients. Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
— Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty Claims, Aspen Insurance
Utilizing claims expertise to improve underwriting
Acting as adviser and advocate, Aspen integrates the entire process under a coverage coordinator who ensures that the underwriters, claims and insureds agree on consistent, clear definitions and protocols. With claims professionals involved in the initial account review and the development of form language, Aspen’s underwriters have a full sense of risks so they can provide more specific and meaningful coverage, and identify risks and exclusions that the underwriter might not consider during a routine underwriting process.
“Most insurers don’t ever want to talk about claims and underwriting in the same sentence,” said Perrella. “That archaic view can potentially hurt the insurance company as well as their business partners.”
Aspen Insurance considered a company working on a large bridge refurbishment project on the West Coast as a potential insured, posing the array of generally anticipated construction-related risks. During underwriting, its claims managers discovered there was a large oil storage facility underneath the bridge. If a worker didn’t properly tether his or her tools, or a piece of steel fell onto a tank and fractured it, the consequences would be severe. Shutting down a widely used waterway channel for an oil cleanup would be devastating. The business interruption claims alone would be astronomical.
“We narrowed the opportunity for possible claims that the underwriter was unaware existed at the outset,” said Perrella.
Risk management improved
Claims professionals help Aspen Insurance’s clients with their risk management programs. When data analysis reveals high numbers of claims in a particular area, Aspen readily shares that information with the client. The Aspen team then works with the client to determine if there are better ways to handle certain processes.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients,” said Perrella. “Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
For a large restaurant-and-entertainment group with locations in New York and Las Vegas, Aspen’s consultative approach has been critical. After meeting with risk managers and using analytics to study trends in the client’s portfolio, Aspen learned that the sheer size and volume of customers at each location led to disparate profiles of patron injuries.
Specifically, the organization had a high number of glass-related incidents across its multiple venues. So Aspen’s claims and underwriting professionals helped the organization implement new reporting protocols and risk-prevention strategies that led to a significant drop in glass-related claims over the following two years. Where one location would experience a disproportionate level of security assault or slip & fall claims, the possible genesis for those claims was discussed with the insured and corrective steps explored in response. Aspen’s proactive management of the account and working relationship with its principals led the organization to make changes that not only lowered the company’s exposures, but also kept patrons safer.
World-class claims management
Despite expert planning and careful prevention, losses and claims are inevitable. With Aspen’s claims department involved from the earliest stages of risk assessment, the department has developed world-class claims-processing capability.
“When a claim does arrive, everyone knows exactly how to operate,” said Perrella. “By understanding the perspectives of both the underwriters and the actuaries, our claims folks have grown to be better business people.
“We have dramatically reduced the potential for any problematic communication breakdown between our claims team, broker and the client,” said Perrella.
A fire ripped through an office building rendering it unusable by its seven tenants. An investigation revealed that an employee of the client intentionally set the fire. The client had not purchased business interruption insurance, and instead only had coverage for the physical damage to the building.
The Aspen claims team researched a way to assist the client in filing a third-party claim through secondary insurance that covered the business interruption portion of the loss. The attention, knowledge and creativity of the claims team saved the client from possible insurmountable losses.
Modernize your carrier relationship
Aspen Insurance’s claims philosophy is a great example of how this carrier’s innovative perspective is redefining the underwriter-client relationship. Learn more about how Aspen Insurance can benefit your risk management program at http://www.aspen.co/insurance/.
Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty, can be reached at Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.