Workers’ comp injuries in healthcare most commonly affect nurses and aides, who are more often involved with high-risk activities like moving patients, but physicians also can be injured on the job. The potential cost from loss of income can skyrocket, says Brian M. Mittman, JD, managing partner and owner of Markhoff & Mittman, The Disability Guys, a New York law firm that represents people with workers’ comp claims.
“You have a highly skilled individual who’s trying to get back to work because the hospital wants him to be at full capacity,” Mittman explains. “You might have a trauma surgeon who was injured in a slip and fall in the ED, with legitimate and severe injuries, but wants to come back and work just on paperwork or performing rounds. The hospital says no and won’t accommodate them within their limitations because of bureaucratic rules.”
The excuse typically is that there is no “light duty” function for such a highly skilled professional, but Mittman says that is a bad strategy that can lead the injured party to put all their energy into aggressively pursuing workers’ comp rather than the job they’d rather be doing in a limited capacity.
“There is a way to develop return-to-work protocols for skilled professionals, and it’s worth it to your organization,” he says. “When you lose a physician or a skilled nurse or a phlebotomist, you can go out and find another — but look at the cost of onboarding a new professional like that. You end up with higher workers’ comp costs from the injury and then higher costs in terms of resources to bring in someone else, train them in your ways, and the costs in quality of care while that person gets up to speed.”
Mittman says he routinely sees workers’ comp cases in which the healthcare employer could have handled the case better, with a more satisfactory outcome for both the employer and the patient.
“I’d love to have risk managers reaching out to me more often to work out a return-to-work plan that is acceptable to everyone, because that is what most injured workers want and need. They want to return to work if it can be done under the right conditions,” he says. “Now it doesn’t work if you have them assigned to light duty, but when they get there they’re told to push this bed and move that patient because the work has to get done. It’s all about finding the solution that works best for both parties.”
• Brian M. Mittman, JD, Managing Partner, Owner, Markhoff & Mittman, The Disability Guys; White Plains, NY. Phone: (866) 205-2415. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.