In modern history, there has not been a more disruptive risk management event than the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed everything, including how we work, where we work and how we interact with each other. This novel virus did not come with a playbook, but after months of living through it, there are many lessons that we can derive from those in workers’ compensation roles who had to quickly adjust and adapt their business models.
In this “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” industry keynote session from WCIvirtual 2020, Sedgwick’s Kimberly George and Safety National’s Mark Walls led panelists in a discussion on how their businesses were impacted by COVID-19 and drastic modifications they made to keep everyone safe along the way. Panelists included:
- Anas Al-Hamwi, Senior Director, Health and Safety, and Injury Management, Walgreens
- Danielle Lisenbey, Global President TPA Solutions, Broadspire
Business operations have been hit hard during the pandemic. Walgreens, being a global company, had the opportunity to learn early from their locations in Asia before COVID-19 dominantly entered the U.S. They were able to get an early plan in place, focusing on clinical guidelines and the science behind COVID-19. They worked to create a robust end-to-end approach, including everything from social distancing and cleaning, to installing plexiglass protection, to monitoring employee exposure when it occurred. The company instilled urgency, creating a task force to proactively protect their workers and customers.
Broadspire also had to work swiftly to get their 9,000 employees working from home. They experienced a 30-35% reduction in incoming claim volume, with certainly industries like hospitality and entertainment shutting down. Being a global company, they also saw varying office location successes depending on COVID-19 response by country. Non-essential services almost came to a screeching halt, yet telehealth took over significantly. The organization utilized their nurses to stay in touch with the injured workers and to keep them engaged so they felt comfortable with service. It could have been easy for them to fall behind in care or become depressed, so engagement and advocacy was key. They have not seen much influx on workers’ compensation settlements. For auto, there has been a slight uptick, but for lesser value – possibly due to the urgency to get the money now.
From the carrier perspective, there was an immediate closure of many companies, which meant lower payrolls and, thus, lower premiums. From a regulatory side, there was an influx in new reporting guidelines, directives on operations, premium refunds and underwriting rules. On the claims side, the industry saw a decrease in regular claims. Workers’ compensation was never designed to cover communicable diseases that affect the public, however if people could show exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace, it was being covered. Despite that, presumption laws are being created, putting the burden of proof on the employer. These presumptions seem to be picking and choosing who would be considered an essential worker and were not consistent across states. Panelist predict that these claims issues will affect the workers’ compensation industry for years to come.
THE EVOLVING WORKPLACE
For Walgreens, speed and adjustments had to be made regularly. Whether it be the atmosphere of the workplace or the systems you put in place, everything affects care and safety value. Employees should be encouraged and given the opportunity to stay home when ill. Also, when symptomatic, providing quick and easy access to care is critical. Walgreens created their own system so that employees could be easily connected to providers. Finally, you need to understand what is happening within your organization in order to adjust your program. Walgreens established a hotline for employees to report information like low-exposure cases. They have been working hard on contact tracing. Confirmed cases are key metrics to your organization. To do so, you have to know the right questions to ask and what needs to be done when you get the answers to those questions. For instance, if people can report on the hotline, then that information can transfer to an email or through an app, that quickly communicates helpful information to all necessary parties. They are constantly adjusting their algorithm based on CDC guidelines. You also have to keep in accordance with compliance, allowing the option to for employees to opt in and opt out of these communications. They believe these efforts are key to protecting their work environment.
Broadspire found that they did not always have the tools they needed at first to do the proper tracing. Early on utilized their nurses to do the appropriate tracing. They also had a challenge getting the right PPE equipment for their team, but were able to accomplish this after some work. Finally, keeping their workforce engaged has been a challenge. Technology has helped. Video has made it possible to commutate with teams globally. They found that they could not over communicate to their clients or employees during the pandemic. Regular communication was key to maintain culture and relationships.
Caregiving has also become an issue for employees. Whether it is a parent trying to work from home with children or employees having to care for elderly parents during this unique situation. This is suddenly something that employers have to be in tune with and tailor policies around. Broadspire focused on providing the flexibility to balance their caregiving situations and while retaining engaged employees.
Mental wellbeing is another area that is rapidly affecting our workforce. The shift from a traditional office environment to the new remote work environment can have a large effect on employees. It is important to simply ask employees how they are doing. In this social distancing environment, employees need to feel connected and valued. This support can come from managers and from peer support groups to share concerns and experiences.
When you have a prolonged crisis, find how you can double down on what worked and apply it to your organization. We have to create an environment that is focused on safety, health, transparency, empathy and care. Also, this new ability to easily connect through technology can offer many future benefits, including speed and efficiency.
Business models are changing and it would be helpful if some of these new ways of doing things would become the norm. For instance, unnecessary claims reviews have slowed down and presentations with unnecessary people in the meeting have subsided. These changes have been positive. In addition, a lot of good has come out of how the industry has responded during this time and we can also use this example to attract new talent to the industry.
This environment is ripe for re-imaging the workers’ compensation model – from how we deliver benefits to how we measure success. This pandemic has afforded us the opportunity to not only think differently, but also use some of these ideas in the areas of technology, people and culture. For example, claims self-reporting has enabled us to triage and quickly get injured workers to the right care. It is time to revisit the 24/7 access to care and see what we can change to support our injured workers and claims teams at all hours. There are plenty of lessons learned. Our industry has done a phenomenal job stepping up and we need to continue down this road.