DMEC News: September 2017

Tasha Patterson@Work

Saluting DMEC’s 25th Anniversary, and Looking to the Next 25 Years

2017 DMEC Annual ConferenceA record-breaking 723 attendees, including 346 first-time attendees, came from 44 states and five Canadian territories to attend the 2017 DMEC Annual Conference. The goal was to hone their absence management knowledge, gain new insights into big-picture trends and intricate compliance details, and take a look back at the last 25 years as they prepare for what lies ahead in the next 25.

Celebrating 25 Years

DMEC co-founder and former Chairperson Sharon Kaleta described her professional experience 25 years ago when she joined forces with Marcia Carruthers to launch DMEC. Kaleta couldn’t attend the conference in person, so Carruthers shared Sharon’s experience:

“The concept of integration first came to mind when I was administering a self-insured long-term disability (LTD) program for an aerospace company. During that time, my company was self-insured and self-administered for workers’ compensation, pension disability, California state disability, healthcare, and LTD.

“Many employees out on disability were collecting from more than one program because there was no coordination between the departments. Once a person was granted benefits, they became lost in the system with no follow up as to the state of their disability or their ability to return to work. No return-to-work program was in place, and there was no impetus by the company to even address that issue.

“After several meetings with upper management, it became apparent that the company would not support an integrated effort unless other similar industries were engaged in the practice.”

Celebrating 25 YearsThrough hard work and dedication, Kaleta and Carruthers eventually succeeded in winning the company’s attention and support, and kept moving forward.

“I remember thinking this integration concept could spread throughout the U.S. and maybe even internationally,” said Kaleta. “In the early days, our week nights and weekends were spent setting up a structure, sending out meeting notices, and spending our own money. Fueled by excitement, we soon realized we would need both financial and industry support. Taking the bull by the horns, I approached Marsh & McLennon and asked for money. They said yes, and we received our first sponsor with a $5,000 donation. I was over the moon, and I knew for sure we were on the right track.”

“From the beginning, our passion was to develop a process where injured or ill employees had access to the workplace during their recovery, and employers had a system that would maintain profitability and productivity. Designing an integrated disability management model required assistance from employers, insurance companies, health management systems, and the employee.”

“When I look back on those early days, I am still amazed that an idea started by just a few people took hold and won the day for many.”

Carruthers concluded, “Now more than ever, with the continually changing compliance climate, membership in DMEC is vital. Who knew 25 years ago that disability and absence compliance would have morphed into the complicated and expansive area that it is today? Education, training, and access to information and networking is key to success in this field.”

Conference Recap

Carol HarnettOpening keynote speaker Carol Harnett kicked off the conference encapsulating DMEC’s 25-year history, and knows most of it personally, having been a DMEC participant for 23 years herself. Harnett found historic trends that are still powerful today. Recent studies by the World Health Organization, she noted, reinforce that the leading cause of disability is depression — validating DMEC’s early emphasis on employee mental health, which was also the focus of the 2016 and 2017 preconference workshops at the annual conference.

Harnett also presented several trends that employers will face in the next 25 years, challenging the next generation of IAM professionals to double-down on  innovation that will keep IAM relevant. From a social media culture of radical transparency, to an alliance between Bitcoin and BlockChain that might disrupt insurance industries, centralized power is more vulnerable than ever. The balance of power in the employer-employee relationship is shifting, and employers need to adjust and adapt to the changes that brings.

Harnett was not the only “big picture” presenter. Jennifer Christian, MD, has championed IAM concerns to the American Council of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and promoted healthcare issues to DMEC. Christian identified a conflict between private-sector employers and the federal government. Rather than investing heavily to accommodate employees, employers have an economic incentive to move people onto commercial disability insurance, and ultimately, to Social Security Disability Insurance. She proposed building a deeper federal/employer partnership to help align employer and federal interests, a prospect that may cheer some employers while terrifying others.

As always, many of the 95 presenters focused on compliance tools and procedures.

  • The preconference workshop included inspiration and best practices for every stage in the mental health continuum, from healthy to early intervention to full disability.
  • A Broadspire panel described how supervisors can identify and manage behavioral health symptoms in the workplace through a rigorous focus on performance issues that protects against discrimination claims.
  • Ever-popular speaker Rachel Shaw showcased a four-step Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) interactive process that can be applied to manage two disruptive new accommodation requests: re-assigning an employee to end working with a “stressful” supervisor or co-worker, and bringing a “therapy dog” to work.

Absence professionals have come a long way on the integration journey over the last 25 years, and DMEC looks forward to continuing our partnership with those who are driving this industry forward and “making the most of their shot” over the next 25.