Taking Off to New Planets: Let’s Talk About Workers’ Recovery at WCI 2018

Dara Barney

Orlando, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – While the Judiciary College is on a track available to judges involved in comp only, WorkersCompensation.com was able to get access and provide readers with an inside look into “Turning the Churn: A Vision for Workers’ Recovery.”

Bob Wilson, WorkersCompensation.com President and CEO, paired up with Mark Pew, Preferred Medical SVP of Product Development & Marketing on Monday to discuss terminology and how important word use is from the injured worker level to the highest ranking comp exec.

“The worst thing you can do, and we see this, is the employer treats the injured worker as a pariah. Once they are hurt, they don’t want anything to do with them,” Pew said. It is a big mistake, because that involvement from the beginning adds production to the process, and can potentially get the employee back to work faster.

Pew told the audience that three out of four tv commercials advertise some sort of medication at this point. We are also just one of two countries that still lets this happen.

“ASK YOUR DOCTOR IF THIS MIGHT BE RIGHT FOR YOU,” he said. Great spiel, and easy to remember and “take action,” right? Wrong.

First, that pain medication you think you need might lead to constipation. Then you need meds for that. Next, it might lead to no sleeping, which can ultimately make waking up a challenge too. Then, this can lead to depression. All of which require a menagerie of medication.

“We use the term ‘claimant.’ What is another word we can use? Claimant sounds dry, it sounds disconnected… not human, and condescending,” Pew said.

Attendees suggested, “employee, injured worker,” and … “recovering worker.”

Now, let’s talk about the term, “addict.” Addict carries a significant stigma, while many injured workers are more of the “dependent” variety, Pew explained.

Another problem is silence, believe it or not. Pew used Los Angeles, CA as an example.

“LA is almost its own country… the stats are overwhelming. Everyone is litigating cases, because some of these personal injury attorneys (applicant attorneys) are rabid with this idea of, ‘You aren’t getting what you deserve.’ But they are the side saying you are being mistreated, while sometimes the employer remains silent and leaves the injured worker to navigate a very confusing system.”

Wilson went on to discuss “disabled” vs. “abled.”

“That term, ‘disabled,’ really grinds me,” he said. “Dis — it has such a negative connotation.

Bethany Hamilton, the young female inspiration behind the movie, “Soul Surfer,” woke up from surgery to a doctor breaking the news to her about an amputated arm after a shark bite changed her life forever.

Instead of telling her all the things she couldn’t do, the medical provider stepped up and made her a longer list of all the things she could do, Wilson said. She went on to be a professional surfer.

Becky Curtis, Take Courage Coaching founder, was in a horrible car accident while working, and sat in a deep, dark depression until she got through the pain she experiences from sun-up to sun-down with alternative treatments including anti-anxiety “medication,” otherwise known as hiking.

“If someone in 24/7 pain like that can keep up with me hiking, we can get injured workers back to work,” Pew said.

“We have to stop this ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” Wilson said. He also referenced Washington L&I, and their worker recovery efforts and projects.

“Through better communication and improved dialogue, we can get improved outcomes at lower costs,” he said. “We have the same common goal, to improve our outcomes, costs, and get employees back to work.”

Wilson told the audience, “All I need is one state to catch on to this workers’ recovery idea…” then we can get the ball rolling more toward acting vs. talking.

It is all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Pew said, paying homage to the late Aretha Franklin.

“Respect isn’t a one-way street. You don’t get respect unless you give respect. Take what you learned here to today and spark some conversations with your colleagues. Re-ignite your passion to do the right thing for the recovering worker,” he said.

The pair also talked about the fly in the butter, the “churn” of the transition. There are some people who are determined to not go back to work, or take on some very negative influences after they are hurt, and remain stagnant in their route to recovery.

“Talk about communication, keep the lines open with those colleagues,” Wilson said. “If you don’t that cancerous mentality can grow, assuming the worst because those lines are shut off.”