There is far more to Disability Management than just the embracing of workers' compensation and it's injury related issues. That does not mean, however, that the workers' compensation community should not fully embrace the concept of Disability Management. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be happening.
I am attending the annual conference of the Disability Management Employer Coalition in San Francisco this week, and even before the opening session I came to a startling realization. It was not an epiphany generated by any scheduled session or overriding theme. No, it was the simple result of an even simpler observation. There are over 700 attendees here, and despite my 15 years of extensive conference activity, I recognize exactly 3 faces in the crowd. While there are companies I know represented here in non-occupational capacities, our industry presence is largely absent, and that tells me something. There is no getting around it. The workers' comp community is largely a no show for this type of event and it does not appear to have any interest in Integrated Disability Management. Plain and simple, my peeps ain't here.
It seems that, while we are good at creating disability, managing it is another thing entirely. You actually have to want to do it.
And broadly speaking, we do not.
The silo effect that seems to so effectively separate us from people managing similar issues for non-occupational injuries and illness was blatantly apparent during one session here at DMEC. A team from the company Amazon was presenting the relatively new Leave Accommodation program they have developed. An attendee asked them how they dealt with those workers who were under the workers' compensation system. The answer, which included the statement that they had to reach out to their workers' comp vendors and work with them “to get them to trust us”, was quite informative. Employers are as accountable to this as those in our industry who serve them. They are not sending their workers' comp specialists to conferences of this nature. For many (not all) employers, disability management is the sole realm of non-occ issues, and the comp crew remains isolated from the discussion. These silo's have to go; and employers need to integrate their own disability management systems in order so they can truly integrate their disability management processes.
This very quickly returned me to an old and now common theme for this blog. Our industry is focused largely on the second component of it's name, compensation, and is not geared for or prepared for recovery on any serious level. It is ironic that this lack of focus is costing employers far more dollars than would otherwise be necessary if we possessed a strong disability prevention mentality (bearing in mind of course that disability and impairment are NOT the same thing).
I wrote Monday about an effort by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), conducting a “Policy Collaborative” on reducing the amount of people ending up on disability in the nation. Part of the effort includes 6 recommendations that are proposed to conceivably help this effort (not saying I agree with all of them). Recognizing that the disability avoidance ODEP is seeking to address is much broader than just that which is occupationally connected, I would still suggest a seventh recommendation. That suggestion would, of course, be to refocus the workers' compensation industry by giving it a new moniker; that of Workers' Recovery. If we really want to change the focus of our industry, than we should call it what it really needs to be.
Disability is not a foreign concept to us. Most of us know and understand its ramifications. We should be embracing the concept of managing and preventing it, but for today the workers' compensation industry is a no show. We can fix that. Let's change the industry name and focus on recovery.
Then seeing my peeps at an event like DMEC will be an expected and natural thing.
Update: There are actually now four people here that I recognize. After this article was complete I shook hands with Larry Klaahsen (@WorkCompExpert). He has been added to the “known” collection that also includes Catherine Bennett of Sedgwick, Columnist Peter Rousmaniere and John Elmore of BMI. There may be more. I won’t rest until the day I can’t count the known WC peeps here on less than two hands!