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About 9% of injured Albertson’s grocery store workers screened since 2013 were found to have psychosocial issues embedded in their workers compensation claims, a figure the company says it is managing with early interventions to avoid problems later.
Denise Algire, Pleasanton, California-based director of risk initiatives and national medical director for Albertson Cos., said the company saw psychosocial issues in workers comp as a major driver for long-tail claims — which is the key point in a recent study on the overall comp industry’s battle with such problematic claims.
Ms. Algire is a principal researcher and study report author of the Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study, which was released Thursday by the Chicago-based managed care solutions provider Rising Medical Solutions and found that psychosocial issues rank as the No. 1 barrier to successful claim outcomes.
The report documents the survey responses of 492 claims professionals, and highlights psychosocial as a major hurdle for return to work.
“We know the single greatest roadblock to timely work injury recovery and controlling claim costs. And it’s not overpriced care, or doubtful medical provider quality, or even litigation. It is the negative impact of personal expectations, behaviors, and predicaments that can come with the injured worker or can grow out of work injury,” states the report.
“(The issues can) drive up claim costs far more than catastrophic injuries,” said co-author and Rising study program director Rachel Fikes, in a statement. “Through this examination, one can see how adversarial, compliance, and task-driven claim styles are ill-suited for addressing the fears, beliefs, and perceptions of this distressed population.”
The results are not surprising, said Ms. Algire, whose company employs 285,000 in more than 40 markets mostly in the western United States. In 2013 it launched a pilot program in its Northern California locations that provided injured workers the opportunity to consult with a third-party “health coach” whose primary job was to see how the worker was doing on the inside, said Ms. Algire.
The program was deemed a success — although the company is still working on exact figures — and was expanded to all locations in 2015, she said. “We know the initial results are promising,” she said. “We see faster return to work (and) lower litigation rates.”
So far 10,000 injured workers have been screened voluntarily since 2013 with 9% of them candidates for mental health services. But Ms. Algire is cautious with language — the company doesn’t call it cognitive behavioral therapy. They call it “coaching,” she said, adding that the company doesn’t want to create a “psych claim.”
“When you say therapy there’s a stigma,” she said. “It’s not the lay-on-the-couch therapy. (It) teaches them skills that help them with self-management and self-resiliency using a variety of techniques.”
Ms. Fikes said Albertson’s approach is good corporate strategy.
“A key strategy of Albertsons risk management leadership is tying their claims advocacy approach to their corporate mission in order to get heightened organizational buy-in,” she said in an email. “Not only is quality employee benefit delivery the right thing to do, but they have also demonstrated how providing excellent customer service to Albertsons employees impacts their ability to provide excellent customer service to Albertsons shoppers.”
Issues such as emotional distress and fear were highlighted as the top barrier to closing workers compensation claims, according to a study released Thursday.