New L&I program will explore getting workers back on the job

The vast majority of workers hurt on the job are successfully treated for their injuries and are back at work within a few days.
Most claims don’t even involve time loss.
But for those employees who are off the job for more than three months, the chances of returning to work grow slimmer by the day.
Although their absence is costly to employers, the impact of long-term disability to the worker, his or her career, and the worker’s livelihood can be even more devastating.
While just 5 percent of all workers’ compensation claims result in long-term disability, those claims consume 85 percent of all benefits paid annually in Washington’s $1 billion system.
Recently, the Department of Labor and Industries set out to improve the situation with a pilot program designed to quickly identify workers who are hurt and may have risk factors for long-term disability that can be addressed.
In partnership with the L&I, Valley Medical Center is signing up and training doctors in South King and North Pierce counties to use health care best practices in treating workplace injuries.
Physicians signing up for the program will be expected to provide inured workers with a speedy diagnosis, immediate treatment, follow-up care and an early assessment of barriers to return to work.
The doctors, their assistants, with help from Valley Medical Center, also will be expected to work with their patients’ employers to get them back to work.
“This program gives doctors resources they need to help injured workers get back to work,” said Diana Drylie, senior project manager. “It will help doctors and employers identify and remove many barriers to returning to work before they become walls a worker can’t get over.”
The project has the support of organized labor and employer representatives.
The contract with Valley Medical Center is for $770,000, which will cover the costs of administering the pilot program until June 2005.
The cost of medical care, including the financial incentives, will come out of Labor and Industries’ medical aid fund.
Among the activities the Valley Medical Center will be providing are continuing medical education in occupational health for participating doctors, coaching and mentoring for doctors, assistance coordinating patient care and return to work, if needed, and help in streamlining the workers’ compensation process.
Under the program, an injured worker can still select his or her own doctor. If that physician is someone who does not normal handle L&I claims, he or she can use the program as a resource to learn best practices.
Valley Medical Center was one of four health care organizations that applied to administer the pilot program.Though all the bids were competitive, the center was selected for the strength of its existing occupational health program.
The center understood the purpose of the project and demonstrated a willingness to work with all attending doctors in their community. The center’s medical director is board-certified in occupational and environmental medicine, with 17 years experience.