I was honored to speak at the 27th WCCP Conference in Bonita Springs on Monday, June 11, 2018. But this post is perhaps more about the journey than the destination.
All over the Southeast, flights were weather-delayed on Sunday. Not mine. My flight was instead maintenance-delayed, out of the airline’s hub. Somehow, they (1) could not depart to lovely (but wet) Pensacola, and (2) could not predict when they would/could. When something goes wrong with a flight, I have rarely seen airlines provide information that was either accurate or timely.
The airline delayed the flight 30 minutes, then another 30, and another. At a gate full of people a lone agent finally laid it bare, “you will not make your connections, it is time to alter plans. See me for assistance.” She had at least 30 lined up as I headed for the ticket desk downstairs and hopefully shorter lines.
I spent an hour there. A kind, frazzled, and seemingly exhausted agent tried every combination she could conceive to get me to, or near, Ft. Myers Sunday. She failed. Nothing would work until "maybe" 10:00 Monday morning. And, the stress was on “maybe.” She fixed my ticket so the return to PNS would not be cancelled because I was about to fail to board the first leg of my outbound (which would have merely stranded me at their hub-airport hotel hundreds of miles further from Ft. Myers than Pensacola.
I walked toward the rental car counter, calling their 800 number as I lined up. I suspected they would be “sold out” because of tourist season and exacerbated by the various cancellations. The 800 number cheerfully changed my pick up location from Ft. Myers to Pensacola just as I stepped up to the rental agent. “I thought you’d be sold out,” I said and he replied “technically I am, but central reservations doesn’t know that.”
I got a car, two classes upgraded from the self-propelled, tin-can, skateboard the state allows me to reserve. I then saw my options, leave immediately, drive in to Ft. Myers at 04:30, and rent a hotel or catch a few winks and depart later. I elected the latter and drove out at midnight, rolling into Bonita at 9:00 (losing an hour just west of Tallahassee). It was a long night.
I had some great conversations. I heard feedback on our Florida system, workers comp generally, and specifically the OJCC. I gained perspectives, picked up on some misperceptions, and learned what concerns are primary today for those interested in workers' compensation medicine, legal, claims handling, and more.
At lunch, I got the mike for 5 minutes to discuss Kids Chance. Many don’t know anything about it. In two years we have distributed about $50,000 in scholarships to kids of injured workers in Florida. We have more money on hand. Our struggle is finding kids to award it to. Kids Chance need help from adjusters, attorneys, case managers and more. We need leads on kids that need college help. And, if you know a child that is way too young for college, but whose family has been affected by a serious work injury, it is never to early for a family to know that Kids' Chance exists and may be of service in the future.
After lunch, I lectured an hour on what is changing in comp. this was no “nuts and bolts” or “how to.” This was a 30,000 foot view of what’s happening today amidst what some call the "fourth industrial revolution." Others call it the technology revolution. Regular readers would find this old hat, but most of the audience were not my regular readers.
We discussed automation, artificial intelligence, and how the world of work will change. We discussed the mess we are in with opioids, addiction, and death. We discussed the untenable yet unfaltering progression of medical inflation. And we mixed in some #metoo in the workplace, regulatory efforts at cost control, constitutional challenges (Castellanos, Miles, Protz), mental health, advocacy-based claims handling, marijuana, and the Millennials’ trending primacy in the American workforce.
It’s fair to say I was all over the map. It was, in fairness, too much and too fast. For the handful of my readers among the attendees, it was hopefully a connect-the-dots of various issues upon which I have repeatedly written. But for those unfamiliar with this blog, I fear it touched on too much about which to be concerned. I am hopeful they visit now and read, a part of my motivation for this post.
I had the chance for a bottle of water at the conference reception. Various great conversations with lawyers, leaders, and critics. Then I slipped out and hit the airport. Weather continued to influence. I departed Ft. Myers on time but arrived at the airlines hub late. Weather had not delayed us, but had delayed may other flights. Our delay was in the taxiing with all the delayed traffic and ground congestion.
I strode through the building from arrival gate to departure, two concourses over. I watched mankind's disregard and disrespect that comes from exhaustion and frustration, as people tripped over each other, shoved, and jostled. Each person was minutely focused on their own deadline, their own goal, their own destination. Some were loud (one lady crowed "excuse me" at the top of her lungs about every third step), some were running, and it was at moments chaotic.
It was not panic, nor desperation. But it was frantic. And as I watched, it reminded me of workers comp. I thought of my afternoon’s audience. Both groups had people that were focused on their own missions individually. It was not that they purposefully ignored big issues or other agendas around them, they merely found themselves with inadequate time, imperfect circumstances, an overwhelming personal responsibility. And, they struggled to deal with those issues within their own profession, the way those airport patrons focused singularly on their own "next connection," missed flight, or other circumstance.
I respect that. I am thankful we have so many professionals pursuing their interest, their professional course. But, we really need to each strive to periodically lift our head out of the furrow we are personally plowing and glimpse the entire field. That helps our perspective, and our appreciation for our own little piece of the big picture. There are so many professions, services, and people that touch any particular workers' compensation claim. A big-picture appreciate for those processes is educational and informative.
We also have to consistently remind ourselves that this whole thing is about people. Both the employee and the employer, after all, are people; real people who have real problems. The rest of us are hopefully each part of a solution, but that’s something we sometimes forget when we are hyper-focused on our own little furrow, as we ignore the rest of the field. In this trip, I had a ticket agent an car rental clerk who managed to try and help me, with varied success, but each remained focused on me as the customer. They were frazzled, tired, and frustrated, but tried patiently and professionally to help me.
I type this on my Iphone as they announce we are on final approach. A 23.5 hour day of education, feedback, and refocus. I gained perspective today. With any luck, I’m not alone. Once in a while, it is worthwhile to get out of the office for a day and remember the industry in which we are engaged. It is a worthy use of our time to think about more than the day to day of our own profession or focus and think about the big-picture issues than may change more than workers' compensation, perhaps even changing what it means to work.
It was a great day interacting with Florida's workers' compensation community. It left me with much to contemplate. I am hopeful it did the same for them.