And they speculated about the possible impact of merging workers' compensation with health benefits, an idea being proposed at the time.
Two of the five, Sharon Kaleta and Marcia Carruthers, conceived the idea of a new professional organization, and soon named it the Disability Management Employers Coalition.
Its 20th anniversary conference on Aug. 12 to 15 in Denver will bring together hundreds of professional disability managers who have obtained knowledge and tools, and have earned credentials from DMEC.
But this league of professionals would not have thrived without a vision that continues to energize and attract members.
DMEC's founding coincided with a paradigm shift in society's expectations about enhancing wellness, rehabilitating disabilities and ensuring productive engagement. These expectations touched the young, old and employed.
The organization harmonically responded to this paradigm shift. It has phrased its responses through relentless curiosity about risks to the American worker.
For example, DMEC recognized that behavioral problems, including depression and anxiety, are often challenging co-morbidities and by themselves can be severely disabling. It holds an annual conference on employee mental-health issues.
It also was the first professional organization outside medical circles to address, in 2007, the mounting crisis of injured and traumatized National Guard and Reserve troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and into the American workplace. Its study of the problem pre-dated all of the press coverage of returning "workplace warriors."
This openness, rather than being distracting, has reinforced the professional ambitions and self-confidence of its members. They are experts in the integration of occupational and non-occupational programs, the breaking down of internal silos and a unified approach to employee absence, health promotion and productivity.
Eight of its more senior members recalled how their field has evolved. They reported that top and middle management support of their work has greatly increased. Coordination between workers' compensation and other benefits has improved. Research into work disabilities has rocketed up in quality. One mentioned that, in her company, "solid metrics exist to measure various programs and services, which are regularly reviewed and strategies adjusted."
On the downside, employees are probably not as engaged as they were 10 years ago, state and local regulations have greatly increased and, even though analytical approaches and metrics are better designed and valued, the underlying information systems are not much improved.
Members also reported a high degree of frustration about lack of adherence to best practices by employers in general.
But, many members would probably agree with one member's assessment of their joint contribution to society at large: bringing about the "return to functional, valued employment status for significant populations across the country."
This is what happens when you aim to make a difference.
PETER ROUSMANIERE is an expert on the workers' compensation industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.
July 24, 2012
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