Workforce Safety: Transitioning the Game

Transitional duty after a back injury let Janet Galiczewski, RN, right, return to work without compromising her recovery.

Two herniated discs and a torn labrum kept Janet Galiczewski, RN, at home on workers’ compensation for four months last year. But Northwell Health’s new Division of Workforce Safety kept her from being out of work another four months.

“When I was starting to feel better, my caseworker asked if I would like to return to work a few hours a week under restrictive duties. I said, ‘Absolutely,’” said Ms. Galiczewski. One of hundreds of Northwell employees who transitioned back to employment in 2015 with the health system’s new Return to Work Program, Ms. Galiczewski serves on LIJ Medical Center’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).

“My manager agreed to the conditions, which included no lifting. Within 24 hours of getting approval from my doctor, I was working out a schedule with my manager,” she added.

Faster Recuperation, Quicker Return

The Northwell Division of Workforce Safety launched in January 2015 to ensure a safe environment for employees, visitors and patients. In particular, the division works to reinforce a culture of safety, address workers’ compensation matters and help employees return to their preinjury life. In 2015, the Return to Work team helped 265 Northwell employees transition back to their regular jobs by finding temporary assignments that were less physically demanding yet still tapped into each individual’s expertise. There were only 124 such assignments in 2014.

“We are providing injured employees with a methodology that has proven to be better for them,” Joseph Molloy, Northwell’s vice president for workforce safety. “Generally, it results in a faster recuperation, and the staff member returns to full duty sooner.” In October, Ms. Galiczewski reported back to the MICU, where she monitored patient charts, organized resource books and mentored younger nurses.

“I couldn’t go in and physically lift the patients, but younger nurses would come and ask for advice on what they should do,” she said.

By January – eight months after she was injured while moving a sedated patient – Ms. Galiczewski was back performing her regular duties.

The transitional work period allows employees to reconnect with their job and their colleagues, stay abreast of developments in their department and return to earning a full salary sooner, Mr. Molloy said.

Northwell also enjoys the benefits. Injured workers, thanks to a new streamlined administrative process that involves more contact with case managers, are receiving necessary medical attention sooner and returning to work faster. This translates into big savings for the health system.

While the number of overall claims increased 7.6 percent, from 5,117 in 2014 to 5,506 in 2015, incurred expenses dipped $140,000, or nearly 1 percent, from 2014, explained Russell Schutzman, director of workers’ compensation for workforce safety.

“You would expect the total incurred expense would have went up, but to have them come in under the previous year’s total was remarkable,” Mr. Schutzman said. “Particularly when you consider that the winter of 2015 was a very icy winter.”

More Case Managers

The Division of Workforce Safety’s ability to engage quickly with an injured employee after a claim is filed – within 24 hours – has been vital in achieving better outcomes for workers’ compensation claims, Mr. Molloy said. By doubling the number of RN case managers from three to six, the average leave of absence caseload shrank from 102 to 50.

“This allows us to be proactive and to advocate for the patient,” Mr. Schutzman said. “Our case managers can help guide employees through the process, making sure they’re getting the right care at the right time.”

Bernadette Amitrano, RN, a nurse manager in the LIJ MICU, was ecstatic to have Ms. Galiczewski back in the office in October, though she explained that it was a new experience. “I was confused at first. In the past, we’ve had staff members on medical leave, and I couldn’t find work for them,” she said. “It had to be full-duty – it was like an all-or-nothing type of thing.

“It was very difficult, because there were great staff members who added a lot to the unit, but we couldn’t bring them because they couldn’t do the physical component of the job,” she added. In fact, Ms. Galiczewski recalled how surprised her colleagues were when they saw her back on the job while still she was recovering.

“A few of my coworkers asked ‘How did you get transitional duty?’” she said. “One told me she broke her finger and another had hurt her back. They both had to stay out until they were ready to return to full-duty. “That’s when I realized I was experiencing something new,” Ms. Galiczewski said.

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