I have said it numerous times, both in my blog and at many speaking engagements around the country. People outside of workers' compensation, the employers and employees we serve, have no understanding of who we are, what we do, or how we do it. Workers' comp is a mystery to those outside the system; a perplexing myriad of regulation and process that continually confuses and befuddles the masses. It is a confusion that can cost us both financially and in quality of outcome when treating a recovering worker.
Nowhere is that more evident than the recent issue concerning CorVel and a wounded police officer.
Last week the Mayor of Fort Worth, Texas publicly took CorVel to task for alleged issues related to the treatment of a seriously wounded police officer. In a letter to the company and made available to local media, the mayor accused CorVel of sending a representative to the hospital “as one of our police officers rests in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds received last night”. The mayor stated the representative asked “inflammatory questions” of family, officers and medical staff the morning after the incident.
I wrote about that incident earlier this week, suggesting in part that the entire episode may have been one of miscommunication; a possibility not remote where our industry is involved. This morning CorVel issued a statement, published here, clarifying the events of that day. It does appear that my ruminations, while not entirely on the mark, were not that far off either.
The statement, issued in response to media queries, tells us it was a Registered Nurse who visited the hospital that day. She was there at the specific request of the city that was to eventually condemn her presence. She has, according to the statement, “25 years experience working with severely injured individuals, a Master's degree in Public Health and she is a Certified Case Manager. She was met at the hospital by police officers who were expecting her.” Additionally it says, “the nurse had already been working with several other City employees in various stages of recovery. She had been well received by injured City employees and their families in the past. She was also currently working with another City police officer recovering from major injuries, which had gone well from the time she first visited in the hospital under similar circumstances.”
Finally we learn, “When she arrived at Harris Memorial, the nurse was escorted to the family by a police liaison officer who was not the usual officer that handles these duties, and there was apparently a misunderstanding as to who she was and what her purpose was for being there. Her presence was not well received and after a brief interaction the nurse left the hospital.”
This is key information, and original news stories published only indicated that a CorVel “representative” had shown up on the scene. Quite frankly, both John Q. Public and the mainstream media don't know the difference between a Claims Manager, a Nurse Case Manager or an SIU Investigator. Just calling that person a “representative” did not allow anyone to understand exactly what might be happening here. I am following up on this story simply because our audience does know the difference, and I doubt the regular media will make much effort to define it for their readers.
So, what went wrong here? For that we simply need to look once again at this statement:
When she arrived at Harris Memorial, the nurse was escorted to the family by a police liaison officer who was not the usual officer that handles these duties, and there was apparently a misunderstanding as to who she was and what her purpose was for being there. Her presence was not well received and after a brief interaction the nurse left the hospital.
Now we need to take that point and combine it with the wild, unsubstantiated and careless speculation for which I am so well known. With that we can pretty quickly surmise what may have happened here.
First, a police liaison who escorted the nurse “was not the usual officer that handles these duties”. Would those duties include informing the family of what a Nurse Case Manager is supposed to do? That she is not there to investigate or deny treatment? That she isn't a claims manager preparing to deny the claim? That her purpose was to expedite and coordinate care? We know that there was “a misunderstanding as to who she was and what her purpose was for being there”. It is entirely possible, in fact completely probable, that as she started asking questions about the wounded officer, a grieving and distraught family member, perhaps a spouse, only heard “I am from the insurance company, and I have some questions”.
In the absence of clear information and complete understanding, cancerous and damaging thoughts can quickly grow. Anyone outside the workers' compensation industry could easily reach incorrect conclusions if they didn't know the process, and it had not been explained to them.
Perhaps someone should also explain that to the mayor of Ft. Worth, TX.
In my original comments, I wrote that “Perhaps the best question that could be asked in that highly volatile 24 hour period should have been, “We are here, how can we help?” It now sounds as though this was the overall message behind the questions, but that had not been clearly defined for the recipients of those queries. I suggested three possibilities as to what may have happened: The wrong questions were asked, the right questions were asked without compassion, or the right questions were asked at exactly the wrong time. I should have included a fourth option. The questions were correct, but lacking context had entirely different meanings for those to whom they were directed.
But, truth be told, I was on the mark by following those speculations up with this: Either way, the perceptions of others formed by the event can have lasting and damaging effects.
That is the crux of the lesson here. Perceptions matter, and if we do not make appropriate efforts to communicate intent, incorrect perceptions may derail the best of efforts. We can't do this, however, if we don't remember that the people we deal with are clueless about the things in which we deal.
I've said this before, but it is a lesson that bears repetition. CorVel's unfortunate experience should be a schooling for us all.