DMEC Celebrates 25th Anniversary!
This year, DMEC celebrates 25 years of empowering organizations to become better employers through effective and integrated approaches to absence and leave management. Delivering on its commitment to advance strategies and resources that improve workforce productivity by minimizing the impact of absence and disability, DMEC is today:
- Supporting over 690 employer and supplier member organizations, representing over 8,700 absence and disability management professionals from across the U.S. and Canada.
- Offering two annual conferences, with combined attendance of 1,000+, providing cutting-edge education, access to federal agency leaders and industry experts, and endless opportunities to network with practicing professionals.
- Providing a national network of 15 regional chapters in major metro areas, delivering networking and education throughout the year to local integrated absence management professionals.
- Delivering trusted, industry-recognized surveys that identify key trends in the profession, including employer leave management practices and behavioral health trends in the workplace.
- Offering two industry-standard professional designations, the new Certified Leave Management Specialist (CLMS) and the Certified Professional Disability Management (CPDM).
- Delivering rich educational offerings including webinars, @Work magazine, legislative updates, and much more, all available on the resource-rich www.dmec.org website.
In addition, DMEC has quietly succeeded in its development of a second generation of leadership, following a long and fruitful two decades of leadership by the founders. CEO Terri Rhodes has picked up the reins and developed a strong vision and team to support the growth of the
organization and contribute to the future of the integrated absence management community.
Co-founders Marcia Carruthers and Sharon Kaleta provided the organization with many important ingredients for success: a clear, compelling vision; a solid organizational model; and a network of professionals that has made DMEC a focal point for efforts by all players to grow the size, scope, and effectiveness of the industry and profession.
“The best part of the experience,” Carruthers said recently, “has been seeing the vision come to fruition. To see programs and membership grow, with all the great relationships that we have built over the years. And to see the industry come to us as the source of information on integrated disability and absence management.”
Insurance providers, consultants, and others who are active in this industry are sponsors and active participants in DMEC conferences, publications, surveys, webinars, and other activities. DMEC provides the space where the markets take shape. And DMEC has remained responsive to member needs, elevating compliance with federal, state, and local leave laws to equal billing with disability management. The new industry description, integrated absence management (IAM), captures the expanding scope, complexity, and importance of the profession.
How It All Began
As with most new visions, getting their model of integrated disability management onto a busy corporate agenda required insistent prodding. Carruthers and Kaleta finally won a hearing with leaders of their aerospace company, Rohr Industries, in early 1992. “It was a pretty traditional manufacturing industry, but even they could see the value of the potential cost savings through an integrated and coordinated program,” said Carruthers.
“We wanted to integrate everything touching disability — whether workers’ compensation (WC), or the employee assistance program (EAP), or safety, or employee health plans,” she said. At the time it seemed like a radical idea, given the dominance of the WC industry, and the way virtually all benefit plans or programs operated inside isolated silos. In a siloed world, they were talking about knocking down silo walls or bridging highly diverse silos.
But after the early meetings inside Rohr, the idea of “integrated disability management” started selling itself. In 1992 they held a series of meetings in California for fellow professionals, with Diana Henderson and Cathy Cather helping to launch the new organization. At each new session, the attendance doubled, Carruthers said.
At their third meeting, California workers’ compensation commissioner Casey Young challenged the 60 professionals who attended to give the state their proposal for “24-hour care,” a model for integrated delivery of WC and group health medical services. The new Disability Management Employer Coalition developed not one but three proposals. They continued building an organization while the state wrestled with 24-hour care. DMEC held its first annual conference in 1996, and began establishing new chapters outside the state. By the early 2000s, when the state Assembly passed some of their suggestions into law, DMEC was a national organization.
New Laws, New Vision
During the early years of DMEC, state workers’ compensation systems were under intense pressure to reform, as claims costs sky-rocketed out of control. The primary focus was on return to work following a musculoskeletal injury, whether on a factory floor or in an office with ergonomics issues.
The genius of the DMEC founders and subsequent members has been to apply this model in an employee-centric process, making it simpler for employees to stay engaged and comply. With a simpler process — for example, giving employees one phone number to call for intake or questions about any potential leave — employers have gained more control while being able to offer employees more flexibility as well.
This approach was first applied to build an interface between WC, short-term disability, and long-term disability. It was expanded to behavioral disability/risk management, a DMEC thread that today includes a biennial survey, webinars, and preconference sessions. The integrated, employee-centric process is now being applied to all leave laws affecting employment, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The steady increase in FMLA and ADA absences, coupled with the proliferation of new sick leave laws, has put disability and leave at the center of concerns for human resources (HR). Interestingly, in the beginning, risk management professionals were leading the charge in IAM. Now, HR and absence management professionals are leading the way. These trends point to the need for additional skills and education, which has led to ongoing development of new programs and resources by DMEC.
The newly-released Certified Leave Management Specialist designation brings together training to address the rise in absence management programs and heightened compliance concerns. And the ever-growing DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference addresses the ongoing need for compliance education for IAM professionals.
“The absence and disability management landscape continues to undergo significant change, expanding the role of HR and our profession. With those changes, the need for additional integration has grown,” said Rhodes.
There has been a shift towards building overarching integrated absence management programs that encompass FMLA, ADA, health and wellness programs, and overall productivity as well as disability programs. Taking a holistic approach to absence programs allows organizations to manage costs more effectively, reduce drains on workforce productivity, and effectively help people stay at work or return to work.
“We’re committed to delivering education and resources that will meet the needs of our professional community in those areas. And we hope IAM professionals will continue to join us on the journey. We’ve seen over the 25-year history of DMEC that when the absence and disability community comes together, significant progress can be made. We have a lot still to do, and we invite everyone to become part of building the future of our profession,” said Rhodes.