February 29, 2008

Ohio State University (Finally) Discovers Modified Duty

We came across an article in the Columbus Dispatch by a reporter with the irresistible name of Encarnacion Pyle. It's about the "novel" use of temporary modified duty at Ohio State University. With its workers' compensation costs nearing $10 million a year, OSU finally discovered the idea that has been circulating among enlightened managers for 20 years or more: "moving ill and injured workers to less-demanding jobs instead of leaving them at home while they recover."

The new modified duty program has already saved OSU $4 million -- more than double what the college had expected. That number doesn't include savings from hiring fewer temporary workers and from projected reductions in premiums for workers' compensation insurance. Lower premiums probably will produce $500,000 in savings this year and reach $1.5 million annually within five years.

"We save money, and our employees feel productive and learn new skills and make new friends," said Tori Weeks, who manages OSU's disability programs.

Since January 2007, Ohio State has reassigned 500 employees -- about 95 percent of the workers with temporary medical or psychological restrictions on what they can do. The other 5 percent are in the hospital or are hurt too badly for even light assignments, such as data entry.

I am tempted to ask OSU: "Where have you been?" Modified duty is not something that takes years to develop in a laboratory. You don't have to wait until costs are wildly out of control to implement the program. But rather than criticize OSU for being so low to respond to the problem, let's give them credit for implementing a first class program.

Healing Words
Our esteemed colleague, Dr. Jennifer Christian, CEO of Webility.md and a guru in occupational health, finds more news in the OSU program than I did. Here is her take on the article:

Two people have sent me this happy story about the financial payback of a stay at work/return to work program from an Ohio newspaper -- and it has some really good phrases that might be helpful to you in marketing these programs to employers. Selling ideas requires skill with language because the words you use are going to create a response in the gut/heart/head of the listener.

1. The first one is in the topic sentence: "moving ill and injured
workers to less-demanding jobs instead of leaving them at home while
they recover." Note this: "moving" instead of "assigning"
or "putting" sounds more benign. "Leaving them at home" is similar
enough to "leaving them alone" that it creates the feeling in the
reader that staying home is like being abandoned.

2. The second one is "We save money, and our employees feel
productive and learn new skills and make new friends." Note this:
this sentence is a list of THREE different areas of benefit to the
worker.

3. The third one is "by avoiding the workers' compensation system,
workers receive their regular pay no matter where they end up during
their reassignment." Note this: the word "avoiding" the work comp
system really emphasizes that this is protecting the working!

OK, I admit it. I am a word nut.

Jennifer has done a nice job of diagnosing the spirit and language of the OSU program that make it special. OSU has infused the return-to-work program with positive energy. OSU might have taken its sweet time to develop the program, but they have brought a subtle dimension of compassion and thoughtfulness that is instructive to those of us who have been developing these programs for decades. Thanks to OSU for doing it the right way - and thanks to Jennifer for recognizing their accomplishment.

| 1 Comment

1 Comment

This is a huge achievement for a huge organization, like OSU. What is more, as Dr. J. B. Talmadge points out-as the theme to his all-encompassing and ground-breaking text, "A Physician's Guide to Return To Work," quoting Albert Camus, " Without work all life goes rotten."

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on February 29, 2008 10:08 AM.

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