Ann Harmon loves a good challenge.
After 26 years of working in finance, she decided she wanted to help turn around a troubled workers' comp program. As an injury compensation program administrator at the U.S. Army's Red River Army Depot in Bowie County, Texas, she got her chance: And has she taken advantage of it.
Harmon is part of a "tiger team" charged with taking a hard look at the temporary and permanent rolls of Red River's employees that are on workers' comp to see where light-duty accommodations, second medical opinions and savings could be made.
"The problem when we first started was that some workers were on the rolls for 15 or 20 years, but no one had come in and checked medical records and stayed on top of the situation," she says. "We had nothing to lose."
But Harmon and her team did lose--or at least reduced--the long-term rolls. Her boss, Commander Col. Douglas Evans, had a goal for his agency to save $1 million in a year by reducing these cases. The agency saved almost 12 times that amount.
"It really knocked his socks off," Harmon says.
Now, future liability of $50 million to $60 million from targeted long-term cases is around $27 million. And a workers' comp program that had been No. 29 on the Department of Defense's Top 40 list for lost time and injury rates got itself off of it. Even better, the program is the winner of the first cyberFEDS® Federal Theodore Roosevelt Workers' Compensation and Disability Management Award.
Collaborative case management helped the agency go from No. 28 on the long-term rolls in July 2006 to No. 14 in September 2007. This accounted for the approximate $12 million in savings.
Red River from 2006 to 2007 also cut long-term and medical costs from $3.7 million to $2.5 million, improved processing and achieved an 88 percent timeliness rate. The depot is working to automate the CA-1 and CA-2 form filing, so that employees can do it online and in a timelier manner. In addition, the depot reduced overall injuries by 48 percent, lost-time injuries by 57 percent and non-lost-time injuries by 43 percent.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK
Red River worked closely with Office of Workers' Compensation Programs and Department of Labor officials to put together a course of action. They also formed a Federal Employees' Compensation Act working group that convenes quarterly and consists of legal, safety and command staff.
Members help identify trends and manage risks to reduce the occurrence of civilian job-related occupational injuries. The group also prioritizes cases for investigation, ensures medical information is not compromised and tracks action plans. As part of the working group's case management, since last fall an OWCP representative and a Red River investigator made some 50 home visits to employees on the rolls.
Of course it helped that Harmon had support from upper management, especially Evans. "He said, 'I'll give you 28 (light-duty) positions to get people back to work,' " Harmon recalls.
Evans decided to use DOD's pipeline program, which allows departments to offer and employees to seek light-duty positions within DOD. The department pays for that employment for one year, giving its employees time to find a light-duty or other suitable job within their own workforces.
"In a year's worth of work, anything can happen," Harmon says. "Employees can be totally healed or decide to retire." Harmon recommends workers' comp specialists stick with the periodic rolls and focus on age for an obvious reason--it's easier to get younger employees with less serious injuries back to work quicker.
But it boils down to effective case management. For example, if workers' comp specialists and managers know a second opinion is scheduled, they can avoid future costs by staying on top of that case.
"But if I get busy in the office and don't see that case, then it's delayed until the next doctor visit," Harmon says. "There's a lot of stuff that can happen at this visit and six months from now. The employee can go in for another MRI and have something else wrong."
Frequent communication with doctors helped Red River make significant improvements.
"You'd be surprised," she says. "When (doctors) see it in writing that you can accommodate light duty, they won't let the employee stay at home."
Red River's workers' comp office is contained within the HR office. So communication between the two entities is frequent and easy. HR and workers' comp staff collaborated to develop generic position descriptions for light-duty positions. They also educated managers about their responsibilities to challenge questionable claims and inform employees of the importance of the jobs to which they are assigned, and made them aware of DOD's compensation pipeline program.
Getting supervisors "to step up to the plate" and take light-duty employees was another major effort, Harmon says. "We made the point that we are one organization and put together a PowerPoint showing how many employees we could employ gainfully if there was no one on the periodic rolls. We went at them with statistics."
After she made her case, 10 supervisors agreed to do what they could.
Harmon says a focus on safety has been critical. Upon hire, employees are educated about safety and the FECA process. Management also highlights a given safety topic every month and distributes training materials, packets and videos. In addition, supervisors hold daily floor meetings, which conclude with a safety update.
The important thing is that if an agency works hard enough, it can deliver savings on workers' comp.
"It's not rocket science," Harmon says.
MELISSA TURLEY is a writer in the Washington bureau of cyberFEDS® Web site, a service of LRP Publications, the parent company of Risk & Insurance®. This story first appeared in cyberFEDS®.
November 1, 2007
Copyright 2007© LRP Publications