Ohio grant program aids RTW efforts

Non-occ injuries may be covered

An innovative grant program by the state of Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) is encouraging employers to initiate proactive return-to-work programs, which can help injured employees get back on the job more quickly. In many cases, the program is even helping workers whose injuries did not occur on the job.

Called Transitional WorkGRANT$, it uses real job duties to accommodate workers with medical restrictions for a specified period of time — generally not exceeding two months — to gradually return them to their original job.

To be eligible, employers must use an accredited transitional work developer to design an on-site transitional work program for its injured workers. The program provides up to 80% of the program development costs, up to a set limit. Occupational health companies must complete a detailed application in order to qualify as transitional work developers, and then attend a one-day seminar about the program.

Qualified public and private employers with more than 500 employees are eligible to receive up to three grants to implement transitional work programs in different departments or divisions of their businesses.

"This grant program is unique in that it has specific requirements the program has to fulfill in order for the employer to get reimbursed," explains Bonnie Jablonowski, OTR/L, vice president of Cleveland-based Vocare Services Inc., which is recognized as a transitional work developer. "That is, you have to have someone develop the program – someone who has the necessary credentials."

A study conducted by BWC’s research department showed that employers who had used Transitional WorkGRANT$ saved, on average, $1,136 in compensation paid by BWC for each approved workers’ compensation claim. The Transitional WorkGRANT$ employers also saved on average $139 in medical costs per claim.

How the program works

Vocare, explains Jablonowksi, is an expert in workers’ comp, and uses that expertise to educate the employers participating in the program.

"We explain to the employer everything they can access from the bureau," she notes. "We educate them on how they can reduce their workers’ comp premiums, starting with a transitional work program."

The grant requires a company analysis, and tells the transitional work developer in exact detail what needs to be measured, including such factors as where injuries occur, applicable OSHA laws, whether there was a pre-existing light-duty program in the company, or if there’s a union at the company. "If so, we get them involved right away," says Jablonowski. "We educate them on the transitional work program, what it is and why it is beneficial, we look at how many shifts there are, as well as the policies and procedures. In other words, we do a thorough assessment."

Next, the transitional work policy is developed in partnership with the employer. A job analysis is conducted for each position at the facility, including a complete list of job tasks and information on the physical demands of each job. "If there are suggestions for improvement or for how to accommodate a position, we include that as well," she explains.

Then, a transitional work position is added to the description of the job. "If the person on light duty can’t do any of the tasks, we have other things for them to do," says Jablonowski, "but our first goal is to have them do as much of the original job as possible."

BWC’s Transitional WorkGRANT$ program is safely returning injured workers to jobs sooner, says the agency. In addition to the financial savings, Ohio’s employers save time as well, with fewer days off work due to workers’ compensation injuries and/or occupational diseases.

Returning an injured worker to the job as soon as safely possible before the worker is 100% recovered lowers workers’ compensation costs and improves the company’s bottom line, says the BWC. "Injured workers may recover more quickly and participate in work activities as soon as they’re medically able," says the agency’s web site (www.ohiobwc.com).

"They may experience a smoother transition back to regular duty and feel improved self-esteem in spite of their medical conditions. They’ll receive a full, regular paycheck and maintain their co-worker and management relationships," says Jablonowski.

The state benefits as well, she notes. "They have people who are not using their system as much as they might; if someone is out of work they receive temporary total payments’ from the bureau," she explains. "And looking at the bigger picture, managed care organizations are being measured by the degree of disability management [DODM] they provide, which is a return to work factor. MCO’s [managed care organizations] are motivated to not only have a DODM within the bureau’s guidelines, but to have a certain percentage of transitional work programs put in place every year." (Vocare is a subsidiary of Advocare, which is an MCO.)

Another benefit of the program for employees is that a lot of employers participating in the grant program choose to cover not only their occ-injured workers, but their non-occ injured workers as well. "Maybe a little less than half of them include both occ and non-occ injuries," says Jablonowksi. "The bigger the company, the more likely it is to do this." Companies still must pay disability to employees absent for non-occ injuries, she explains, so it makes sense to return them to work as quickly as possible.

[For more information, contact:

  • Bonnie Jablonowski, OTR/L, Vice President, Vocare Services Inc., 4670 Richmond Road, Suite 100, Cleveland, OH 44128. Telephone: (216) 514-1221. Fax: (216) 514-0706. Web site: www.advocare-inc.com.]