I attended a virtual ceremony yesterday honoring Vickie Kennedy, Assistant Director of Insurance Services at Washington Labor & Industries. Vickie retires from the agency tomorrow, after a scant 50 years of service to the agency.
Vickie started with the agency in 1971. She advanced through a variety of positions and became Assistant Director of Insurance Services in 2013. Don’t let the title fool you. She is “assistant” in the sense that she reports to the Director of Washington L&I, currently Joel Sacks. L&I is a huge agency encompassing a variety of programs related to regulating numerous business activities. Kennedy has been responsible for overseeing the entire workers’ compensation insurance system in the state, including the self-insurance arena. And since the state is monopolistic (Kennedy prefers the word “exclusive”), that means she has been responsible for, as former Saskatchewan WCB CEO Peter Federko would say, “the whole shitaroo.”
Washington can be a bit of a quirky state in some areas of workers’ comp. I find that is largely a product of its legislative processes, more so than the regulatory system that must manage the legal system it is handed. I have had the opportunity to get to know Vickie over the years and am honored to have her as a friend. She has managed an impossible job with humor and class, and it is evident from the outpouring of love at last night’s virtual event that she will be missed by many. She has been a person that takes her duties quite seriously, but not so much herself. Anyone who knows her will likely understand what I mean.
It was disclosed last night that Vickie was born on the same day as Queen Victoria. Apparently, that meant the date, if not the actual year. Therefore, one of her departing gifts bestowed on her by Joel Sacks was a fitting tiara, which, of course, she immediately donned. Don’t tell her I said this, but “Queen Vickie” is an appropriate moniker.
People in workers’ comp outside Washington State may not yet realize it, but they are indebted to Vickie Kennedy. Her vision of return to work and the programs she shepherded around that philosophy are years ahead of many other states. The new Vocational Recovery Project implemented in the last few years and codified by regulations in the state ensure much earlier vocational intervention intended to help an injured worker back to work. It has, by L&I actuarial accounts, saved employers in the state well over a billion dollars so far. But more importantly, it has helped restore a quality of life to thousands of injured workers who may otherwise have been left languishing in a system not properly focused on the “end game.”
One of the reasons her focus on recovery has been so effective is that Kennedy views Return to Work as a partnership. She understands that employers, insurers, medical providers, vocational experts, and more must all be working collectively for a common goal. In many systems today the lack of direction and communication to that end means that RTW, where it is discussed at all, is more of a catch phrase than an actual program. At L&I, under her direction and leadership, it has become that true collaborative effort.
Fortunately, Vickie, like so many workers’ compensation professionals, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “retirement.” Yes, she is retiring after 50 years with the same organization. But it has been announced that she is moving into the private sector, taking a position with Linea Solutions. I know her plans are to continue to work to try and take the message of disability avoidance to a broader audience. She plans to stay involved in the industry, and she will continue to chair the IAIABC’s Disability Prevention and Return to Work (But Should Be Restoring Function) Committee.
So as one chapter closes, another one opens. I am glad that we will still have the opportunity to share her knowledge, wit, and humor. Thank you, Vickie Kennedy, for fifty years of exceptional service. I look forward to seeing you at IAIABC in Nashville next week.
And I bet she wears that damn tiara….