A program instituted by the county of Riverside, Calif., has made tremendous strides in reducing the number of workers' comp claims the county is exposed to.
Formally launched in March 2005, Riverside's Injury Intervention Therapy program has reduced the county's frequency of RMI claims and saved it millions in health costs and money saved by keeping workers on the job.
The program was initiated in 2003 as a pilot program that gave hands-on therapy to workers who had filed workers' comp claims. In its first run, workers who used the program reported an 83 percent reduction in their symptom levels.
In order to make the project more proactive, Riverside later shifted its focus to preventing injuries before they occurred.
The county now has a team of two occupational therapists that visit workers in their offices and provide confidential therapy behind closed doors. The therapists provide traditional treatments like massage and heat applications but also train office workers in self-massage and stretching exercises designed to decrease tension and pain in shoulders, backs, necks, hands and wrists-- the traditional depositories of repetitive-motion work injuries.
Workers can get up to 12 treatments but average about eight, according to Ryann Turcotte, a county occupational therapist.
A key factor in the program's success has been union buy-in.
Vicky Currier, the county's workers' compensation manager, says the program came about in part as a result of discussions with the unions that represent Riverside County Workers.
"We have very strong unions, and we sat with them and back in 2003 talked about what can we do to reduce workers' comp costs," Currier says.
The Laborers' International Union of North America and the Service Employees' International Union have both provided human capitaland financial support for the program, according to Mark Carleson, a Riverside County safety manager whose division works with Curriers' to ensure that the set-up of county work stations is ergonomically correct.
Currier says the success of the program has also been propped up as a result of dialogue with the local medical community about the benefits of injury intervention therapy.
"There was an education program that went along with the pilot program," Currier says. "There was a lot of resistance in the medical community. Some did not believe in the therapy as, quote, a medical procedure."
For about $170,000 per year, which covers the salaries, benefits, supplies and transportation needs of two therapists, Riverside's Injury Intervention Therapy program has produced cost savings for the county of more than $1 million per year.
Who wouldn't want to get a return on investment of 580 percent? Not to mention the improved quality of life for workers and managers who spend less time battling pain and workers' compensation claims and more time focusing on their professions.
Now the question becomes: Why aren't more entities, public and private, doing what Riverside is doing?
"I believe we have been challenged to do some things that in the claims field are unique," Currier says.
DAN REYNOLDS is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
November 1, 2007
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