I have worked in the Maryland Workers’ Compensation arena for around 20 years now. I (like you, I am sure!) have seen many changes and have proudly been a part of numerous transitions.
However, it seems that Maryland is currently moving away from its focus on returning the injured worker to suitable gainful employment. Now, it appears, cases are settled more often than not – at the potential expense of the injured worker.
I have had the luxury of working with many great professionals understand the benefit of keeping the injured worker’s focus on return to work from the date of injury. Short-term benefits include having a concrete goal and fending off depression. Long-term benefits include increased self-esteem, a more complete medical recovery, and one less person on public assistance.
Typically, it is pretty clear from the first report of injury that the injured worker is or is not going back to work. Developing a plan for return to work as soon as possible will make a case easier to manage, possibly contributing to a quicker, cheaper resolution.
Under the changing system, addressing vocational needs of an injured worker is no longer the norm. There are a number of reasons for this, and likely the most salient is a matter of dollars and cents.
No one gets paid until the case is settled, including the injured worker. I get it. We all get it. However, it need not take longer or excessive cost to ensure that the injured worker gets, at a minimum, some job seeking skills training, a resume, and labor market information if he cannot return to work with his employer.
Large referral sources have told me that they are no longer offering vocational services at any point, let alone before MMI and settlement. Instead, they are waiting for plaintiff counsel to demand it and most don’t.
Not long ago, not one Commissioner would even have considered allowing a settlement without RTW being addressed. It was commonly understood that medical rehabilitation alone was not enough to return an injured worker to his or her best level of functioning. What has changed?
Are we now giving them money and send them on their way - medically rehabilitated and with a fistful of dollars that will not last and without a way to support themselves and their family?
I am at a loss to understand how such a cutting edge and considered Workers’ Compensation System could now be so mundane and indifferent toward its constituents. Being isolated as I am in my relatively rural location, I was unaware that the issue was as a more widespread.
Recently, I have found that other colleagues have noticed the same tendency. An additional, somewhat disturbing trend is that insurance companies are primarily referring to a handful of large Rehab Providers to the near exclusion of small or sole proprietors.
I have received only plaintiff generated referrals over the past two years. Until recently, I assumed this was MY problem and have only now found that other providers of similar size are experiencing the same issue.
I cannot help but think that this is not in the best interest of Maryland’s injured workers. A variety of approaches, personalities, and standard operating procedures ensures a more personalized and effective relationship with the injured worker.
My colleagues and I are deeply troubled by this change and hope to initiate at least a dialogue that will spark a change for the better treatment of Maryland’s injured workers. We are, as a group, committed to providing any knowledge, expertise, or effort required to ensure that vocational rehabilitation is provided to our injured employees and taxpayers in the State of Maryland.
Mary Sherwood, MS, CDMS, CCM
Certified Disability Management Specialist
Landline 302.644.1827 | Mobile: 410.444.1989
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