Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OKC's Integris Health Uses Workers Comp Prevention Efforts as Employee Retention Tool

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OKC's Integris Health Uses Workers Comp Prevention Efforts as Employee Retention Tool

Article excerpt

Reducing workers' compensation costs by $15 million over six years was merely a pleasant byproduct of accomplishing what Integris Health really set out to do, the company's risk management officials said. What's important is that they kept more of their employees from being injured.

I hope you're not just focusing on the money, said William R. Wandel, system vice president of risk management for Integris, as if it were in poor taste to highlight the fact that the company has cut its workers' comp costs in half over the last decade. We're doing it for the sake of helping our employees. We don't care so much about the money. It's the retention.

With 8,000 full-time employees, Integris Health is the second- largest private employer in the state. The company operates Oklahoma's largest not-for-profit health care system, which includes 10 hospitals, 20 specialty centers, 10 rehabilitation centers, 95 physician clinics, seven mental health facilities, two independent living centers, eight home health agencies and three foundations for charitable giving.

By trying to better care for their employees - and thereby keep them on the job longer - Integris has drastically reduced its workers' comp costs over the last few years, even as other companies have experienced drastic increases in workers' comp costs over the same period.

During the 2005 legislative session, the issue of how to reduce workers' compensation rates will be debated by lawmakers at the Oklahoma State Capitol for the third year in a row. Some blame rising workers' comp costs on trial lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits. Others blame it on insurance companies seeking greater profits. Still others blame it on employees who commit fraud against the system.

But Integris officials found that the most efficient way of reducing workers' comp costs is to reduce on-the-job injuries.

The real way to deal with it is not to have it, said Wandel. Paying claims is like getting smacked in the face all the time. It's better to keep them from happening in the first place.

Preventing injuries in the health care field is a daunting task, however. One industry study found that the average nurse lifts an estimated 1.8 tons per eight-hour shift, caring for patients and moving medical supplies and equipment around. And obesity studies show American patients, on the average, are getting heavier every year.

When certified nurse's assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses were combined in one study, the group suffered more musculoskeletal disorders than any other occupation, 138 percent more than truck drivers, the next-highest job on the list.

What's more, the average nurse is more than 40 years old, and getting older. Fewer young people are joining the profession. An estimated 83 percent of nurses work in spite of back pain, according to the American Journal of Nursing. …

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