Ironically enough, healthcare industry workers are among the most likely to receive on-the-job injuries. Out of the over 16 million people employed in the healthcare sector, an average of 5.2 workers per every 100 will suffer a nonfatal injury each year, but the nursing home, assisted living, and residential care segment of the industry has it the worst: out of every 100 employees in a residential care facility, 8.3 will suffer an injury each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this industry’s lost workday illness and injury (LWDII) rate is four times higher than that of the entire private sector.
Let’s take a look at why this sector may have such a high rate of employee injury. The type of work required by assisted living facility employees requires a good deal of physical labor, especially lifting. Moving residents to and from their beds and chairs and helping with bathing can put a strain on the back and cause micro-injuries to the spine, which could in turn lead to musculoskeletal disorders. In addition, depending on the type of facility and the states of the patients, there is the potential for employees to be injured by the residents. Another possibility is natural disaster: with all of the recent natural disasters (some having severe negative impacts on nursing homes and assisted living facilities), an ill-prepared facility could find its employees being injured while working to protect residents in a disaster. In addition, with so many residents and employees spending time in close quarters, illnesses can easily spread throughout a facility. With so many potential sources of employee injury, these facilities need to understand the workers’ compensation process and do everything they can do make sure it runs smoothly, for the sake of their employees’ health and their business’s finances.
The first step to reducing claims is reducing the risk of workplace accidents in the first place. We have previously addressed how residential care facilities can prepare for natural disasters and safeguard against the spread of disease, and cannot stress enough the importance of having a regularly tested and updated disaster recovery plan and routinely inspecting the facility for potential liabilities and sources of injury or illness.
However, not all accidents can be prevented, which is why it is crucial to ensure that the workers’ compensation claims that do occur are able to be resolved quickly and as low-cost as possible. The first step is decreasing workers’ compensation claim reporting lag. It has been estimated that the average claim cost increases 3 percent each day that the incident is not reported, with an 18 percent difference in cost between reporting during the first week and waiting for two weeks. As stated above, back injuries are among the most common in this sector, and these types of injuries are strongly affected by cost increases: after the first week, the average cost increases by 35 percent. Because of this, facilities need to create a workplace culture that encourages rapid injury reporting. Create a set of reporting guidelines that can be followed in the event of an injury, and specify who will be in charge of reporting the injury (along with back-ups) so there will be no confusion over who should report the claim.
After the claims process has begun, it is likely that the employee will need to take a leave of absence to recover. Make sure to have a return-to-work (RTW) program in place: studies have shown that the longer an employee is away from work, the less likely they are to return. While the employee is away, maintain lines of communication so you will be aware of their physical state and recovery progress; this will also help them to feel connected to the workplace even while he or she is away. Once they’ve returned, be aware that they may need to have their job responsibilities adjusted.
Caitlin Morgan specializes in providing Workers’ Compensation insurance to residential care facilities, including offering a program designed for members of the Indiana Health Care Association (IHCA), HOPE, and Leading Age Indiana associations. We can assist you in reviewing an existing Workers’ Compensation plan, securing coverage, boosting safety plans and implementing RTW programs for your nursing home clients. Please contact us at 317.575.4440.