Jim Bradshaw doesn't eschew small-town life. He relishes it. After all, he could have tried his luck in larger markets in Texas to the west after graduating from college more than 20 years ago. Or, perhaps he might have even boarded a bus bound for Chicago to the north.
But no. He chose to attend college at the University of Little Rock, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from his home-town school.
And in Little Rock is where he stayed, going on to serve the city he calls home for 24 years and counting. But if you press him, he'll admit working for the city isn't what he set out to do.
"I originally thought I wanted to become an engineer," says Bradshaw, who serves as risk and benefits manager for the city of Little Rock. "But after a couple semesters of calculus, chemistry and physics, I decided engineering wasn't for me."
A few semesters later, he took a basic psychology course and heard a guest lecturer speak about the concept of applied psychology, particularly the role of ergonomics in the workplace. That was all it took. He was hooked.
He switched his major to psychology. After completing his undergraduate work, he found a human resource-related job at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. After a year and a half, he decided to pursue a master's degree in applied psychology.
"Just as I was beginning my graduate studies, I found a position as a personnel technician with the city of Little Rock," he says. "It appeared to be something that would give me a little more experience to put on my resume and would pay for me to go to graduate school, so I went for it."
That was 24 years ago. "For me, it's a good place to be."
Looking back, it seems as if finding a steady job was the hardest part. Once on the city payroll, it didn't take him long to move up, first from personnel analyst to benefits project specialist, and then from that to risk and benefits manager heading the city's Risk Management Division, the unit responsible for managing the city's health-care programs, retirement packages, workers' compensation and other benefits packages for about 2,500 employees.
"I always happened to be in the right place at the right time," he says. "When (the outgoing) HR director left in 1987, the new HR director didn't want anything to do with handling the benefits plan. At that point, I was promoted to the position of benefits manager, which became the starting point for my work in the benefits and risk management arena."
Bradshaw had his work cut out for him. Shortly after his promotion, the state workers' comp law was changed and required municipalities, not the state, to run their own workers' comp programs. The city soon found its claims costs spiraling out of control.
"We realized that we needed to make some changes in the way employees were paid for their lost time," says Bradshaw. "Originally, we paid employees from the moment an accident occurred. One of the first changes we made, without changing our union agreement, was to charge employees' accrued leave time for the first three days after an incident was reported."
It didn't take long to get results. "A lot of minor incidents that has previously resulted in a day or two off of work suddenly didn't require any time off at all," he says. "Once the employees were required to charge their absence to their accrued leave time, it was not so enticing to take days off as it had been in the past."
After making changes in the way employees were being compensated for lost time, Bradshaw began to think of ways for employees to cut down on lost-time claims in the first place. That led to the city issuing written safety manuals and implementing safety-training programs. He was also instrumental in adding the positions of loss control/safety specialist and an occupational health nurse to address safety issues in the workers' comp program.
"Our focus is to get people back to work, with the appropriate restrictions, as soon as possible, which has been a tremendous cost saver," says Bradshaw.
In 1993, he notes, the average annual cost of the city's workers' comp program was around $1.8 million. In each of the last five years, workers' comp expenditures have hovered around $800,000.
One of the most successful factors of the city's workers' comp program has been the implementation of faster reporting procedures through a "Nurse on Call" program. The program was brought to Bradshaw's attention by his third-party administrator, Risk Management Resources.
"This program cuts down on the lag time in reporting claims tremendously and has made a significant impact on our ability to manage claims and get employees the appropriate treatment and get them back to work as soon as possible," he says. "We went from barely meeting the state-required minimums of two-thirds of claims reported in a timely manner to being pretty close to 100 percent in the last few years."
In addition, the city has a deal with a local orthopedic clinic where injured employees can be sent, avoiding the need for multiple doctor visits for the same incident.
"Jim's attention to detail and investment in these strategies to address workers' comp claims had led to the city's success in managing its exposures," says Larry Jolley, CEO of Ramsey, Krug, Farrell & Lensing, an independent insurance agency and parent company of Risk Management Resources, the TPA arm of the Little Rock, Ark.-based firm. "He has been very aggressive in making sure that any plan that could drive costs down was implemented and is committed to measuring and monitoring the results of these programs. He truly understands what drives costs, and what he can do to impact costs, and knows what it takes to get the job done."
Safety on the job is a major concern for Bradshaw. He was also instrumental in implementing a program initiated by the city's public-works department to eliminate the need for manual lifting of garbage cans by employees. The city now uses 65- to 75-gallon super-carts--trash containers citizens use to collect their garbage and roll to the curb--that can be lifted and dumped mechanically. That means that in Little Rock you won't see garbage collectors hanging on the back of the truck, and that's cut into the rates of ankle and back injuries.
In the summer, when the number of city employees swells to about 2,800, Bradshaw's attention shifts to reducing heat-related claims. The city recently implemented a "Beat the Heat" initiative, which helps employees recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
The number of employees suffering from heat exhaustion has gone down. When incidents do occur, employees and supervisors have become familiar enough with the symptoms that they tend to address the problem much more quickly. The average cost of a heat-related incident has gone down, from more than $2,500 in 2000 and 2001 to under $200 per incident last year.
In addition to his job responsibilities, Bradshaw has found the time to expand his qualifications through continuing education programs. He currently holds the certified risk manager and certified insurance counselor designations, and is in the process of completing his associate in risk management certification.
"Jim has done an outstanding job of managing the risk management division," says Don Flegal, the city's human resource director. "In the seven years I've worked with him, his division has met or exceeded its goals and objectives, and he has implemented a number of new projects, while overseeing the ongoing operation of workers' comp, benefits and insurance programs. He is also involved in and committed to a number of charitable and community-based programs."
MINDY TORAN lives in Pennsylvania.
June 1, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications