Collaboration Results in Overwhelming Success for Disability Program
With more than 4,000 employees, the County of Santa Barbara's workforce presents a multitude of challenges for disability manager Deborah Wells. Yet, from September 2009 through August 2010 the county returned to work more than 90 percent of employees who had temporary and/or permanent work restrictions. All required accommodations.
"Ultimately, it makes good fiscal sense," Wells said. "The employer doesn't have to train someone new. . . . Other employees see that the employer cares about their employees, so there's improved morale."
Santa Barbara's Disability Management/Back to Work program is a seven-step process. It's dependent on the cooperation of the supervisor and employee, as well as the program coordinator.
"As part of the interactive process, I meet with the employee and supervisor and have them sign an agreement that the work is not to exceed medical restrictions," Wells said. "They will bring their medical restrictions in to the supervisor; the supervisor agrees not to ask them to perform any work that exceeds their restrictions."
The program also stresses assisting employees with non-industrial work restrictions. That requires a willingness by the employee to provide updated medical documentation and work restrictions to the program coordinator and supervisor.
"Your supervisor needs to manage the workload and has to make the adjustments to the workload depending on the employee's restrictions," Wells said. "The supervisor needs to know immediately."
Addressing the needs of workers with permanent restrictions is even more complex. Wells developed a reporting system to ensure these workers are not put in a position where they could reinjure themselves or sustain new injuries.
"The supervisor may have changed; people are looking at new assignments," she said. "You can't really depend on your employees to remember their restrictions even if I've had them sign off on their agreements. It's shocking."
The county now documents all employees with permanent work restrictions, including the supervisor's and doctor's names and the date of injury. As the program coordinator, Wells is consulted before any employee with restrictions is assigned to a new position.
In addition, Santa Barbara County has a system to target employees who have been out of work for a period of time. "A leave of absence list comes out every two weeks with the name of the individual and reason for absence," Wells said. "When someone's been on that list for a period of time, we'll work with the department to clarify what we need to do to bring the individual back."
One of the final steps in the program is a customer survey sent to injured workers. "I use it for feedback to improve the program," Wells said.
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November 8, 2010
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