We recently reviewed a newspaper article in the Springfield State Journal-Register indicating the City of Springfield, IL has paid more than $16 million during the last three fiscal years in medical bills, cash settlements, attorney fees and paid time off to employees who submitted claims for on-the-job injuries. As the costs continue to mount, Springfield Budget Director Bill McCarty is calling for an overhaul of the city’s workers’ compensation claims handling protocols. During the next city council meeting alone, Springfield aldermen will vote on eight workers’ compensation settlements totaling more than $420,000.
In response, Budget Director McCarty wants to hire a comprehensive case manager and require new City employees undergo pre-employment physicals and fill out health history questionnaires. We encourage him to ask the pre-hire questions about prior workers’ comp injuries approved by the Seventh Circuit Federal Appellate Court in Carter v. Tennant Company—if you want the questions, send a reply. The ultimate goal, he said, is to reduce the city’s expenses and the amount of time employees are off work because of injuries. Doing so, he feels, could save millions of dollars each year.
McCarty has suggested a number of changes, including:
· Hire a comprehensive nurse case management company. Similar to what Sangamon County does, McCarty has suggested hiring a company that would contact an injured employee as soon as a claim is filed and keep in contact until the case is resolved — even attending doctors’ appointments. The company has helped reduce workers’ compensation costs significantly — from $1.5 million in fiscal 2004-05 down to $350,000 in fiscal 2007-08, in addition to lowering the county’s premiums for workers’ comp insurance, he said.
· Involve city directors in claims. McCarty said the city should become more aggressive in investigating claims. The administration wants to involve directors/supervisors who know their employees but currently aren’t asked for their input.
· Optimize their Safety Leadership Council. One city department has an 11-member council, which includes upper management, that meets monthly to discuss safety and recommend changes in policy and procedures. Since its inception in June 2007, there has been a steady decline in the number of accidents, Sabin said. McCarty said he wants to see such a council created on the city’s corporate side to work with city employees to find ways to reduce workplace injuries.
· Pre-employment screenings. McCarty said prospective employees should have to take a comprehensive physical as well as fill out a health history questionnaire so the city knows a worker’s physical condition when he or she begins employment. Employees could be disciplined or terminated if it’s discovered that they lied on the questionnaire, he said.
· Publish employee claims online. The idea is still being debated, McCarty said, but he wants the names of employees who file for workers’ compensation and the amount they receive to be posted on the city’s website. The city wouldn’t include the injury type or any medical data, he said. The information is already available to the public, but putting it online may increase transparency and potentially discourage employees from filing false claims, he said.
KC&A agrees with many of the above concepts and adds the following for everyone’s consideration.
Ø Get into a Workers’ Comp PPP. This new tool is going to dramatically change the face of Illinois WC. If you need help with it, send a reply and we can point you to the experts on it.
Ø Demand Accidents Be Reported Timely—many of our clients now discipline for late accident reporting.
Ø Aggressively Investigate All Accidents. We have an accident investigation form available for use by anyone who needs it—if you want it, send a reply.
Ø Use Webcam Questions for interviewing injured workers and witnesses on DVD with a webcam to lock in their stories—if you want it, send a reply.
Ø Always Pull Surveillance Videos in the area of an accidental event. In work areas where you have high accident incidence rates, set up surveillance cameras.
Ø Target Return to Work to light and full duty.
Ø Provide Reasonable Accommodation at all times to facilitate return to work at the earliest but safest interval.
Ø Target Maximum Medical Improvement or MMI.
Ø Convey The Targets to the injured worker, the supervisor and your claims handlers.
Ø Make the Targets a Reality by Staying in Close Touch with the worker on at least a weekly basis whenever they are off work. The goal of staying in touch is to keep the worker on track along with insuring their medical bills and TTD are being paid.
Ø Consider Making Pro Se Settlement Offers on “hard-tissue claims” to minimize litigation.
Ø Hire better defense counsel who can provide assistance at every step of the process—KC&A provides 24/7/365 assistance to Illinois government organizations and businesses who want to attack WC costs in every direction.