Many of us are still reeling from what has been a whirlwind week of unexpected change. Last week our biggest concerns were about travel and conference disruptions as well as finding enough toilet paper to last a couple weeks. This week we find the rest of the store shelves empty, restaurants and bars are closed, and virtually every function involving 10 people or more has been cancelled. I received an email this morning from a friend who just returned from a three-week trip to India. The opening line of my response read, “Welcome home. You’ve returned to a completely different country than the one you left.”
I am clearly on record as one who is questioning what he views as, in many cases, a hysterical response to a concerning problem. When you compare the numbers thus far to the Swine flu epidemic of 2009, the panic and complete disruption of our economy simply doesn’t seem to make sense. In 2009 over 60 million Americans were infected with Swine flu (H1N1) and almost 13,000 of us died. Most of us don’t even remember it happening. Today’s numbers are paltry by comparison.
However, we must begrudgingly admit that the actions we are seeing today may likely prevent a reoccurrence of that event and insure that, in this country at least, Coronavirus will not become another Swine flu. That doesn’t mean we should not be concerned, or that people will not be hurt. In fact, the health threat for many will shift from the physical to the realm of economic and psychological. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in our society. The minimum wage hourly worker, the person dependent on tips, the people barely getting by from paycheck to paycheck. These are the people who are being thrown into the maelstrom, whose more immediate concern as their job is eliminated becomes feeding their family and not getting evicted from their home.
And for workers’ compensation, it means our injured workers are most imperiled by the disruption being caused.
Numerous state agencies and workers’ compensation commissions have suspended in person hearings and legal proceedings for at least two weeks. That time may be extended as this situation plays out. Some states have capacity for video-based hearings, but many do not. This means that injured workers, some of whom have already seen long delays in their claim, are left in limbo as their case or hearing can’t be heard. The injured worker appealing a denial or trying to get their day in court over a denied medical procedure will have to wait, and that could mean more pain, aggravation and economic harm.
We can’t blame the agencies and commissions. They are doing what is now deemed responsible to protect the physical health of their employees and the people they serve. It is somewhat ironic, however, that some of the same people their actions are designed to protect are the most vulnerable to harm from the actions done on their behalf.
For many of us this entire experience is one of ultimate inconvenience. Our conference got cancelled. Our Pool League got postponed. Our golf outing was cancelled. Our civic group won’t meet for a few weeks. We have to get used to working from home.
But our paychecks will continue to arrive. Ultimately our lives will not be disrupted on any significant scale (beyond the fact that our 401k’s have been decimated – but they will come back eventually). For our injured workers and others in society who are the most vulnerable, it will be a different story.
Compassion and understanding in difficult times can go a long way. For many of the people out there that our industry is supposed to help, life is rapidly becoming more difficult, and the climb back out will not be as easy.
We will all be better off if we can keep that in mind.