By James M. Anderson
Anderson Crawley & Burke, pllc
601 500 7477
Several years ago, I met Bob Wilson, aka @workcompking, and heard for the first time the concept that we have named our workers’ compensation system the wrong thing by overlooking the issue of recovery. I was fascinated by the paradigm shift, and now wholeheartedly agree with him that, by maintaining a focus on “compensation” rather than “recovery,” we have misspent huge sums of money and created significant misery. Perhaps most importantly, we have failed significantly to properly serve those individuals who have had the misfortune of sustaining a substantial work-related injury. The impact of that failure on those individuals is magnified many times with the realization that the spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, and others who are depending on that individual’s ability to work, his or her health, and of course income have also suffered devastating consequences as the result of this misdirection. Income reductions have impacted an ability to have adequate food, have caused the loss of homes, vehicles, and a lifestyle that was usually modest to begin with.
I have spent my career, dating back to 1971, in the field of workers’ compensation in a variety of different capacities. I have become increasingly aware that the system in many States (such as Mississippi, my home State), does a very poor job of providing adequate benefits that the social legislation we call workers’ compensation was intended to address. I hear stories from colleagues in other States suggesting limitations in their systems in a variety of areas, and there seems to be continuing disagreement as to what the WC system should be offering to the work force.
The effects of an injury on the injured worker, as well as his or her family, mirror the devastation caused by an individual’s diagnosis with a significant health condition. Charities abound serving individuals with heart conditions, cancers, and every other disease and condition we can think of because there is a recognition that those individuals and their families deserve to be treated in such a way that their needs are met. I think we need a legitimate way to serve our recovering workers after an injury and fill in some of those holes that permeate our patchwork of workers’ compensation systems spanning the country.
We have a very good national charity focused on the workers’ compensation community—Kids Chance is now operational in almost every state! It is a charity I am delighted to support. Its mission to date has been a focus on providing scholarships to the children of seriously injured or killed workers, and the effect of that focus provides many, many heartwarming tales of success.
But I think we can and should do more. Perhaps this idea is something Kids Chance will want to explore, and if not, that is perfectly fine. A different non-profit organized for these specific purposes is clearly viable. When you consider the number of people whose livelihoods are made on the backs of the injured workers and the billions of dollars spent in facilitating, running, litigating, and managing the system, there are obviously many involved industries, entities, and people who could see the benefit of such a non-profit.
A component of what I envision is an ability to provide financial benefits beyond what the WC system pays—an effort to “fill in the gaps” if you will. This will be the hard part inasmuch as trying to determine legitimate needs will require further contemplation. But there are obviously cases where the benefits could make a difference in the quality of life of an injured worker and his or her family now.
Among the things that I see a need to address include making sure the injured worker’s family has necessary food. The current pandemic has revealed that there are many children who have relied on school systems for 2 of their 3 daily meals, and many do not have an opportunity for a third daily meal at home. I can see that being a daily problem in the homes of injured workers, even during better financial times. An additional focus to address concerns adequate clothing, shoes, coats, and appropriate school supplies. Details of how to prioritize and address these needs will evolve, but they illustrate the kinds of things that might be possible for the effort I envision.
Everyone has different life perspectives, but it is my observation that many injured workers feel isolation and rejection following a work-related injury. What if we were able to provide support groups to provide interaction with others similarly situated? I am told by mental health professionals that it could make a difference. Another focus could be to provide printed or online materials to the injured worker community designed to provide solace and encouragement regarding what the future might hold post-injury.
Too many times approved workers’ compensation legislation has been the result of the stronger political force at the time pulling the workers’ compensation system in one direction or another. Workers’ compensation professionals are usually not consulted regarding what is really needed, and I doubt that will change with the daily rancor we hear confirming how far apart our current political parties are on nearly every issue. So if we cannot craft real improvement through the political process, this charitable effort deserves some consideration. Workers’ compensation professionals can and should help refocus the energy towards a new goal of recovery. We, working together, can help achieve that goal, and at the end of the day, truly help those whose lives are interrupted by an unfortunate injury at the workplace.
Jim Anderson is an attorney who practices law in Mississippi, primarily representing the interests of the Employer/Carrier. He has served and continues to serve on the Board of Directors of a variety of non-profit entities, and much of his career focus has been directed at workers’ compensation education and improvement.