Looking Back and Projecting Forward: The Evolution of DMEC
By Marcia Carruthers, MBA, ARM, CPDM
Co-Founder and Board Chairperson
Looking back, now almost 30 years, the national growth and recognition of the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) has been achieved through a number of underlying structural principles that have served as building blocks for a strong foundation. Much of what worked back in 1992, continues to keep us focused on our core values and employer member base. Lessons learned, ongoing creativity, and opportunities seized spurred us to fine-tune our model, and in the process, assured our future expansion and viability. From the perspective of a co-founder and Board Chair, and as I turn over the leadership to another generation, I thought it instructive at this juncture to review DMEC’s past history and place in the ever-evolving industry of disability, absence, and productivity management.
Early Ideas, Passion, and Corporate Environment
The concept of DMEC began at the desk of Sharon Kaleta, co-founder, in 1991, as we worked together at Rohr Industries (an aerospace subcontractor, now part of United Technologies). As a large employer with self-insured benefits, we were keenly aware of the need to manage all aspects of disability in what then was termed simply “disability management,” but was to be the precursor of integrated disability and absence management (IDAM). Through our previous positions in risk management, we were schooled in worker’s compensation (WC) philosophies and early intervention. We both knew that close monitoring of cases, emphasis on return to work (RTW), flexibility of all self-insured benefits (WC, healthcare, long-term disability (LTD), and voluntary state disability insurance (SDI)), and coordination between departments was key to cost-effectively managing our claims. Our platform of self-insurance allowed flexibility, inventiveness, financial viability, and a path to integration.
We also knew the challenges of proving cost savings and overcoming the “silo mentality” were critical to “selling” the program to upper management. Fortunately, the vision at the time has held us in good stead — identifying a need, seeing the big picture, and translating that into to practical applications and solutions to ensure cost-effective programs for employers.
This “can do” attitude and the willingness to “take a risk” were fundamental elements for this entrepreneurial effort. Underlying our corporate mantra of cost savings and productivity, we knew in our hearts that “work was curative,” and it was simply “the right thing to do.” We were passionate that employees should not be “put out to pasture.” We set our sights on avoiding LTD, retirement disability, and social security disability (SSD) if at all possible.
The economic environment in 1992 was recessionary, so employers were primarily focused on managing costs. It was also the beginning of the push in compliance program expansion. Things were much simpler back then — as we were only focused on four main compliance programs:
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
- workers’ compensation;
- California state disability; and
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
With ADA in its infancy, not much was known about the implications, as case law was just forming. Little did we know that the door was just opening to more and more compliance issues that would continue to support the need for employer education and DMEC’s program offerings.
While we felt we had a good program, we wanted to learn more from other employers who were doing similar things. Enter Cathy Cather (then with Alexander & Alexander and now with her own firm, Cather Healthcare Consulting) who we met at an industry meeting. She offered to set up some lunches with other clients who were expressing interest in sharing ideas too. Thus was the birth of what has become a core component of DMEC — employers sharing ideas, programs, and methodology with other employers over a meal. One of the first attendees at these lunches was Diana Henderson, who was then National Workers’ Compensation Manager at Hunt-Wesson (now leading her own consulting firm, The Henderson Group). She would become our first Treasurer when we incorporated in 1995.
Even back then, the concept that was spawned included expansion of DMEC into all 50 states and even internationally. We felt that the concepts we were proposing would work regardless of the statutory environment, type of insurance, and even size of the company. In short, it was a universal concept of getting employees back to work as soon as possible, along with keeping the workforce productive as a healthy and right thing to do.
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