By STEVE YAHN, who has been a reporter and editor for national publications.
Marcia Carruthers, a long-time driving force of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, is taking a step down at the organization in order to take a step up.
At the opening session of the DMEC's 2012 annual conference, it was announced that Carruthers, who co-founded the organization 20 years ago, will retire as the group's president and CEO in February. From that point on, she will assume the role of the chairman of the board and focus on strategic planning activities.
The previous chairman of the organization, Sharon Kaleta, who co-founded the trade group along with Carruthers, will retire. Executive Director Charlie Fox will step up to the CEO role.
For Carruthers, disability management activities have dominated her career since her first job as assistant risk manager at the University of California in San Diego. From there, her career advanced when she was hired by Rohr Aerospace (a division of B.F. Goodrich) joining her with Kaleta.
"We ended up creating this disability model which essentially coordinated with our healthcare group along with the long-term disability and our medical department, all aspects of disability," said Carruthers. "That was a pretty new concept."
"We had an aggressive case management program," she added, "borne from the risk management perspective of how to deal with people who are on disability."
Another formative part of Carruthers' career came between her time at Rohr and the launching of DMEC.
During that period, Carruthers was director of product development and marketing for Integrated Insights, where she created a model behavioral disability management program. "It was the early beginnings of a behavioral risk management concept that we expanded at DMEC," said Carruthers. "That's become one of the cornerstones of the DMEC, one of the programs we're known for in terms of providing education and information."
When Carruthers and Kaleta decided to form DMEC, not only did they encounter some initial skepticism about the validity and impact of such an organization, but there was another major drawback.
"We had no money," said Carruthers.
But, "DMEC enjoyed an early success because it was built on having the right concept at the right time," she said. "When we launched DMEC, it was a difficult economic time and employers were really looking to save money. The disability management programs were new and they were a way for companies to save considerable amounts of money by getting people back to work faster so they weren't out on claims as long."
However, Carruthers said that she saw a value for DMEC during periods of economic prosperity as well as hard times. "I think we did well even in the good times because when employers are concerned about keeping their good human capital then they look to good disability-management practices in order to keep their people productive and at work and hopefully engaged in the workforce."
Disability management has become much more complex than when DMEC was founded.
"The behavioral piece and wellness were unknown then," she said. "Now, not only have they grown in popularity and proven to be cost effective, but certainly healthcare reform will only heighten this interest."
Carruthers said somebody recently noted that someone who is responsible for integrated disability management would have to understand -- and comply with -- about 42 different programs.
Today DMEC has become a robust organization. The association has 15 chapters across the United States, with 400 member companies, many of them large corporations. The organization has 17 national sponsors, the likes of which include Aon, Hartford, Met Life and Mercer.
The association also has an active webinar program. "In addition to 20 live webinars held last year, all of them are recorded so our members can listen to them afterwards," Carruthers said, noting that the group also publishes books that include a set of basic texts on disability management.
The association also keeps pace with developments in its field through conducting conferences. "Compliance is a huge piece of what we do," Carruthers said. "In fact we have a compliance conference that we do in the spring because our members are so hungry for that information."
Carruthers filled a number of executive roles at DMEC in her 20-year career with the association: COO from 1996 to 2006; and CEO/president from 2007 until February 2013, when she will serve as chairman of the board thereafter.
As for projects she has targeted for the start of her role as chairman, Carruthers is not short on priorities. She cited four:
* "The whole behavioral risk issue is something I feel very strongly about, so I'm going to be tracking that and making sure we instill good educational programs in that area. There really isn't any other industry group that's taking the perspective of practical applications for employers."
* Keeping an eye on the virtual workplace. "More and more the virtual workplace is gaining wider acceptance and so it has implications for disability issues."
* The stress of extreme productivity. "We did a think tank on this three or four years ago when at that point we thought people were ready to hit the wall in terms of the demands of extreme productivity and being connected to the workplace 24/7 and doing two jobs instead of one. But it's only gotten worse. We haven't solved this problem, so that's another major issue I will be watching."
* Workforce warriors: challenges and opportunities from deployment and reintegration of citizen soldiers. In 2007, DMEC released a white paper on the subject in response to the largest deployment of Reservists and National Guard members since World War II.
The association did a follow-up of that study this year and Carruthers said she plans to continue exploring how employers can respond to the military deployment and reintegration of citizen soldiers serving the country. Carruthers said she will be assessing issues through the lens of risk management.
"I have my [associate in risk management designation] and I cut my teeth on worker's compensation so that's definitely the way I view the world," she noted.
She sized up the realm of disability management by saying: "The people who are involved in this know that it's the right thing to do. There's an element of how it is going to affect the bottom line, and that will certainly help sell the program and keep it going, but people also know that it's not only good for the company but it's good for employees as well because employees need to be productive. Work provides a lot of positive reinforcement for them. For many people work is their whole social circle."
Spoken like a chairman.
September 4, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications