Tennessee offers a bountiful REWARD for returning to work

Tennessee offers a bountiful REWARD for returning to work

With unemployment at record lows, “great resignation” and labor shortages almost everywhere, the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation could not be better timed to launch a new return-to-work program. Called “Return Employees to the Workplace and Reduce Disabilities (REWARD), is a comprehensive effort that includes training and support for employers looking to reduce spending and staff their businesses. More importantly, it can reduce the suffering of “disability dependency” we see when people don’t return to a functional role in society.

The REWARD program makes Tennessee one of the few states, perhaps on par with only Washington, that is truly focused on an effective return to work.

According to BWC:

Returning Employees to Work And Reducing Disabilities (REWARD) is a program developed by the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to help prospective employers develop an effective return-to-work program or improve an existing program. The REWARD program was developed by a working group of interested employers, medical professionals, insurance companies and Bureau of Workers’ Compensation staff.

The REWARD program consists of five components:

  • A toolkit that provides information and resources for starting a REWARD (return-to-work) program
  • Certified Physician Program with more billable hours
  • Training for reintegration coordinators
  • Resources and networking opportunities for employers
  • Annual roll of honor recognizing employers with outstanding return-to-work programs

The program includes monthly virtual training sessions, as well as in-person lunches and learning meetings to share ideas and hear respected speakers discuss return-to-work practices.

While some elements of the program, such as For example, the annual roll of honor to be implemented later this year, the core components have been operational for most of this year. Suzy Douglas, Medical Services Coordinator for the BWC, tells us that approximately 150 employer representatives attended either the RTWC training or the REWARD employer meetings. According to Douglas, the participants represent case managers, physical therapists and attorneys. The goal for this “core group” of early adopters is for them to build relationships and hopefully benefit from the information suggested in the toolkit to help them create or improve their RTW program.

The REWARD Toolkit itself offers ideas “for companies of all sizes to help them get their injured employees back to work sooner.”

The tool kit includes:

  • Advice on actions to take before and after an injury to get injured employees back to work as quickly as possible
  • Information on effective transition work assignments
  • Examples of return-to-work policies and transitional job offers
  • Information on the role of RTW Coordinator and training for this role is available from the Office
  • Tips on choosing the right panel doctors and communicating with them effectively
  • Return-to-work calculator to predict savings from implementing a return-to-work program
  • Support for employees unable to return to work after an injury
  • The role of the case manager
  • The catastrophically injured employee
  • Information about the upcoming Certified Physician Program that will train, test and certify physicians interested in utilizing best practice in Tennessee’s worker’s compensation system
  • Information on support and recognition opportunities for employers who enroll in the Bureau’s REWARD program

One of the most interesting components of the program, which will be launched later this summer, is the Certified Physician Program. This is a critical area as physicians typically present a major barrier to returning to work. We have far too few Occ Med specialists and all too often untrained physicians let patients’ opinion alone determine what their RTW status will be. And as I recently wrote the constant focus of doctors on restrictions versus ability don’t help matters.

The Certified Physician Program should have a major impact on these hot topics. The Bureau’s program will offer certification (training, testing, ongoing assessment) of physicians interested in providing worker’s compensation health care based on best practice.

This includes:

  • The value of returning to work and guidance on encouraging injured workers to participate in their recovery
  • Training on the TN Workers’ Compensation Scheme including: Root Cause Analysis, Labor Restrictions and Reporting
  • Use of the guidelines and forms, ODGbyMCG for treatment guidelines
  • Coaching injured workers to increase their activity as quickly as possible
  • Assessment of Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and
  • Assignment of permanent impairment ratings and permanent work restrictions.

I hope other states will take a close look at what Tennessee is doing and realize that an effective return to the workplace will reduce costs and disabilities while helping employers improve employee relations and maintain adequate staffing levels. This last point is more critical today than ever.

We’ve known it for a long time, but it’s a lesson many employers and states seem to have forgotten. Returning to the workplace is vital to our society and economy, and now, at least in Tennessee, there seems to be an even greater REWARD.

You might learn more about them REWARD program here.

All of Bob’s Cluttered Desk’s posts are now also available on www.bobscluttereddesk.com


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Robert Wilson is President and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and From Bob’s Cluttered Desk contains his (often disjointed) thoughts, babble, observations and rants – often on workers’ compensation or employment issues, but occasionally not.

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