One of the more compelling contributions to the recent 2016 Workers' Compensation Summit in Dallas (The “National Conversation”) came from someone likely unaccustomed to the environment of the intense two days of meetings. I included her on the list of 40 invited participants for two distinct reasons. First and foremost, she has demonstrated the ability to “think outside the box” by developing a thoroughly innovative system for supporting injured workers who suffer from chronic pain. Secondly, but with no less importance, as a catastrophically injured worker who experienced the workers' comp system first hand, she could provide a perspective different than most others in attendance.

The description of her accident was compelling enough; multiple rollover car accident. Broken neck. Incomplete quadriplegic who was told she would never walk again. While she made several points our industry needs to consider, the most instructive moment for me was a statement she made at the end of her testimony to the group. She described how workers' compensation had essentially treated her fairly, attending to her medical care and paying her benefits. She admitted to feeling badly about how she had treated her nurse case manager and others, because she had been told by friends that the system was going to “screw her”. This affected her viewpoint in a negative and unfair way, when the reality was the system took care of her.

Except for one thing. 

Expected to never be able to fully function again, her doctor ordered a scooter to aid in her mobility. The insurance company denied it. They appealed, and fought the decision, to no avail. Despite the fair treatment she had received, for whatever reason, she was not able to get the scooter.

She told the group that today, despite the prognostications regarding her infirmities, she hikes up to seven miles daily. She closed by saying, “I am so thankful that I never got that scooter”.

The implication was clear. If she had been successful in getting the scooter her doctor insisted she needed, she may never have achieved the mobility she has regained today. She could have been, by well-intentioned actions, forever disabled and dependent on a device designed to help her.  It is ironic that it could have actually inhibited her recovery.

It was a brilliant takeaway for those in the room. To me it was a peek into the world of unintended consequences; when our actions designed to help instead inhibit progress and hurt their intended recipient. In this case, I am sure the insurance denial was not a magnanimous effort to guide her to a better way. No, I am sure it was a denial based on monetary reasons and perceived need – a denial that by all accounts could be considered an epic failure of workers' comp.

Except for the grace of God, it wasn't an epic fail. It was an unintended win.

In case you are confused, this is not a call to immediately start denying all assistive equipment for injured workers. Certainly that is not the intent of her message, or my portrayal of it. But it does show us that we need to think through all actions, and ask ourselves; Does this action truly help the injured worker, or will it just inhibit their progress to recovery? Are we too often fostering a climate of disability dependence, and fertilizing the deadly disability mindset?

What are the true and real consequences of our decisions?

Clearly, they may not always be what we intended. In the 1994 hit song “Unanswered Prayers”, singer Garth Brooks extolls the virtues of wishes not granted, when the benefit of hindsight can reveal what we are unable to know in the present moment and time. That is strangely applicable to this story. The negative actions of a carrier resulted in a more positive outcome for the the injured worker in their charge. It is an outcome that sometimes cannot be seen until the final results are in, but we need to consider all of the possibilities that may arise from our actions.

And sometimes, we just need to thank God for unanswered prayers.

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