Over 15 years I’ve attended what feels like a million conferences, and about a billion individual conference sessions. While there is a plethora of quality content available across the nation, in many situations the content for me is of a “been there, heard that” variety. That is not a criticism, just the lament of someone who has ample opportunity to hear presentations across many jurisdictions. So, if you had told me earlier last week that I would find myself getting excited over a session entitled “Workers’ Compensation 101”, I would have responded with, as my friend Dr. Sheldon Cooper would say, a heavy sigh accompanied by a look of haughty derision. 

Yet that is exactly what happened to me.

The Oregon Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference, held last week in the Portland area, produced this session covering the most basic points about workers’ compensation process and procedure in the state. It is a something they do each and every year. The presenters were Jennifer Flood, Ombudsman for Injured Workers for the DCBS, and Dan Schmelling, Claims Supervisor for SAIF Corporation. The presenters were excellent, clearly comfortable working with one another and experienced in presenting. The topic was, well basic – 101 in fact. Those are not the things that peaked my interest. 

No, what really got my attention and made me take notice was the questions. The many questions from a clearly confused and information hungry audience.

I’ve written about the confusion surrounding our industry and it’s methods for those outside the industry, and even those just entering it in some capacity. Employers and medical providers are at times completely lost when it comes to the requirements and nuances of the industry. Training for new adjusters is at many locales abysmal. Yet at educational events like this I don’t recall finding any offerings for such people. The sessions are usually much more advanced, presenting skilled and informed speakers opining at a 40,000 foot level; while some in their audience are still on the tarmac, trying to fit their luggage in the overhead bin and figure out which seatbelt goes with their seat. 

Oregon’s Workers’ Compensation 101 was as basic as it gets. Flood and Schmelling covered everything from the basics of initial notices to how many doctors an injured worker can use in the life of a claim. The audience of approximately 25 people, consisting of medical providers, employers and a couple insurance people, peppered the pair with questions in what was the most interactive session I’ve attended in quite some time. 

The only criticism I have was not with the presenters, but with some terminology driven by state regulation. Oregon apparently classifies claims in two categories; non-disabled and disabling claims. It is what the rest of the world calls med-only and time loss. Schmelling indicated that SAIF, Oregon’s largest insurer, prefers to use the more common latter phrases the rest of us are familiar with. That’s a good thing, as actually labeling people as having a “disabling claim” would seem to do nothing but drive the disability mindset I have been ranting about in recent months (Ironically, in an odd confluence of topics, SAIF is the other thing I’ve been ranting about – go figure).

And I would never have known this had Oregon not offered a Workers’ Compensation 101 session.

It was simply, in a word, awesome. And it was something other states should consider including in their conference curriculum. Educational conferences should, after all, educate, and not everyone is flying First Class. 

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