It was at breakfast, on the first day of meetings at the 2016 Workers' Compensation Summit, where an interesting observation was made. The Summit, as you may already know, was part of the much discussed “National Conversation” being held to address our industry's shortcomings. The Summit meeting area within the Westin Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport Hotel was perfect, offering a comfortable private library, or anteroom, outside two meeting rooms, the Sunnyside, where the main meetings were conducted, and the Washington Irving Room, where our meals were consumed. It was within the latter where the observation, presented in the form of a question, was made by one of our attendees. He asked me if the selection of the Washington Irving Room was an intentional and symbolic choice for our gathering. The truth was that it was merely a happy coincidence, and I had not even noted the connection prior to his speculation on the matter.

Washington Irving was an author from the 19th century, probably best known for his work “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. He is lesser known for some of his thoughtful quotations and philosophical contributions. One of those quotations, however, could not be more salient to the issues our industry often faces. It was:

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune;
but great minds rise above them.” 

How perfect is that affectation in regards to some of the issues we face in workers' compensation? There are many professionals who believe that we cannot fix what is wrong with comp, and that we can only suffer with its shortcomings. It is also certainly applicable to the world of injury management. How many times have we encountered those facing a permanent injury who seem resigned to complete and utter failure? Yet, how many of us have encountered people who have suffered horrific injuries, but still rise above to inspire and succeed?

The Anteroom

There is a question I often ask audiences when I am speaking at a conference; “How many of you have encountered an injured worker whose perception of their disability was not necessarily in line with the realities of their physical injury?” The response is always a strong ripple of laughter as the majority of claims people in the room raise their hand. It is a known phenomenon within the industry; some injured workers with serious yet not disabling permanent injuries remain awash in disability and despair, while others with equal or even more serious impairment rise above and recover. They may not be able to do what they did prior to the injury, but they adapt and adopt new skills and direction. Others of the same mindset learn how to accomplish old tasks in a new way. Either way, the reason to me is fairly obvious; the difference between impairment and disability is often literally in the mind. Remember, little minds are tamed and subdued while great minds rise above.

The Sunnyside Room

Certainly that is not the case with all impairing injuries. There are clearly people left tragically disabled from their workplace accidents, and they are most certainly unable to proceed on any normal life path. Yet others, whose injury does not align with the perception of their disability, wallow in self-pity and aggrandizing anger.

The attendees of the 2016 WC Summit, listed below this article, spent some time discussing the bio-psycho social modality as it applies to workers' compensation. It can be a controversial topic, and we really did not have time to meet a strong consensus in this area. Personally I believe that what happens to an individual long before a workplace injury can have a terrific influence on the trajectory of the injury aftermath. Some employers are waking to this belief, and are finding excellent results identifying these outlying factors before the claim goes off the rails. Our industry needs to follow their example, and recognize that what goes on between the ears of an injured worker is as important as what is happening around them.

An interesting thing to note about the “little mind” phenomena is that those who suffer from it can at times be as hateful towards injured workers who overcome their challenges as they are all of us in workers' comp. Last week I wrote an article about the inspirational life of Charles Krauthammer, a man who, despite being an incomplete quad from a diving accident, has led an extremely impressive and successful life. While virtually all comments on LinkedIn were very positive about the lesson he teaches us, one “little minded” injured weighed in with an angry and spiteful comment about him on my blog. She started by saying, “Charles Krautshammer [sic] didn’t get any help, at all? I seriously doubt that he did this all by himself, especially getting to go to medical school!..” She then went on to blame insurers, voc rehab, lawyers and just about everyone else as the reasons she could never return to work (this comment was never approved to appear with the article). A mind tamed by misfortune? Perhaps. But, as my friend and fellow blogger David Depaolo recently pointed out in an excellent post, these minds only criticize, and rarely have any positive suggestions to propose.

While the group that met in Dallas will not be able to make recommendations based on desired cultural changes in workers' comp, there was no shortage of discussion surrounding issues such as this. Attendees overall seemed to feel that addressing the injured worker on a more direct and understanding level, as well as comprehending psycho-social issues would be a big step forward in avoiding the pitfalls of a serious claim gone bad.

We simply have to get better in helping to develop “great minds” that can rise above their misfortune.

We discussed much more, and I will be writing about it for weeks. Bad actors in comp, regulatory burdens, communication issues, compliance and more were all deeply debated. So I suppose it is only fitting that our friend Mr. Irving had two more quotations applicable to these situations. For those “little minds” and their obstreperous yet often unproductive diatribes against the world, he would likely say, “I’ve had it with you and your emotional constipation!

And for Summit attendees who gave up their precious time and energy to toil in the bowels of workers' compensation's most concerning issues, while some outside the group indicated they were wasting their efforts, he would offer, “Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.

I can assure you, the attendees of this Summit, listed below, had the most definitive purposes. 

Take Courage Coaching Becky Curtis 
CentriX Disabilty Management Jason Parker
National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network Jane Stone
College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Brad Ingram
American Bar Association Jim Reiter
Workcompcentral David DePaolo
Safety National/WorkComp Analysis Group Mark Walls
Disney Michele Adams
Unilever United States, Inc.  Fernando Lomanto
Safety National Tom Hebson
AIG Tom Glasson
Motorists Group Insurance Jennifer Hertzfeld
National Council on Compensation Insurance Mona Carter
National Council on Compensation Insurance Jeff Eddinger
Sedgwick Institute Rick Victor
Workers’ Compensation Institute Jim McConnaughhay
Workers’ Compensation Research Institute John Ruser
Workers Injury Law Group Alan Pierce
Workers Injury Law Group Charles Davoli
IAIABC Dave Threedy
IAIABC Jennifer Horejsh
National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary Michael Alvey
National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary Jennifer Hopens
Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators Abigail Hudgens
Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators Frank McKay Bob Wilson Kathy Moore
American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons Mark Melhorn
Jennifer Christian, M.D. Jennifer Christian, M.D.
United Parcel Service Michael Fenlon
National Association of Professional Employer Organizations Farah Fielder
National Academy of Social Insurance Emily Spieler
National Academy of Social Insurance David Torrey
Dave Langham Dave Langham
Public Union Jim Brantley
Employee representative Geoff Bichler
Paul Sighinolfi (Maine) Paul Sighinolfi
AMAXX – Employer Michael Stack

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