Tuesday, March 31, 2020

You are Essential

What/who is essential? That is a word game that has been getting some attention lately. The reactions to the novel virus in 2020 have come from national, state, and local government. There have been both focused and blanket "closure orders." Each of them has a unifying characteristic among their individualism: each one has exceptions. The most common of the exceptions is the "essential" characteristic. If you or your business is "essential," then that outweighs the risk and you may remain open or working. 

Some examples are clear and fairly simple to understand. Pharmacies are our only source of medication, critical to treatment, thus essential. Grocers are our only source of food, critical to life, thus essential. Doctor's offices are our source of treatment, critical to recovery, thus essential. No one questions the need for fire fighters, police officers, public utilities, and more. There are plenty of easy examples of "essential."

There are easy examples for truck drivers and warehouse workers. Anyone that has shopped for groceries readily understands that without these individuals there would be no product on the shelf to buy. But, WEAR television recently reminded of the broader impact of truck drivers. It describes log truck drivers working "pretty much non-stop” trying to supply the mills that can produce the paper. That is paper to package with as well as paper to use (plates, napkins, and of course the ever-elusive toilet paper). 

But, we may not be effectively scratching the surface. Someone posted on Twitter that several orders did not include insurance adjusters in the "essential" category. This person pointed out that adjusters make decisions regarding payment for treatment, care, and pharmaceuticals. What if a provider calls for authorization and no one answers. Will the care be rendered, the medication be dispensed, without that assurance of payment? There is a very valid argument therefore that insurance professionals are quite "essential." 

I never saw this one coming, but is a liquor store "essential?" According to PennLive, the Governor of Pennsylvania closed all the liquor stores there (state owned/licensed beverage control stores) on March 17. And, the agency spokesperson says the "Liquor Control Board is not considering reopening its Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores at this time." But, others are expressing concern that this societal deprivation could lead to alcohol withdrawal and even death. That article quotes physicians who fear such withdrawal patients might further test medical facilities struggling with COVID-19. Others report that addiction relapse is a heightened risk during the challenging times of this virus.

Last week, WorkCompCentral published Essential Designation Allows Attorneys to Keep Serving Clients During COVID-19 Closures (paid). This focuses on the recent Oklahoma emergency declaration. Some there questioned whether "law firms were considered essential businesses." It took an amendment to that declaration, a day later, to clarify that "legal services and myriad other professions" could continue operating. 

That article is certainly focused on the workers' compensation perspective. The author supports that attorneys have found themselves busy in recent weeks. A summary is provided of states in which attorneys have been deemed "essential" according to various orders: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Illinois. Other state are noted as not specifying law firms, such as New York. 

There is significant detail in some orders. The Alachua County, Florida order (Gainesville) lists the "essential" businesses in 37 paragraphs of categories (lettered (9)(a) through (9)(kk)). Some paragraphs address a discreet category of worker, others are broader. There is much that is "essential." 

An attorney was quoted by WorkCompCentral to the effect that “these cases don’t stop.” The injured worker's "conditions are not put on pause. My clients’ ability to work is not put on pause.” The fact is that in the best of times, a work accident can be a life-altering event for a worker. Though it is not discussed as often, the accident can similarly have profound effects on the employer, and coworkers. When the best of times devolve into a more troubled time, those in the aftermath of a work injury may be more profoundly affected than their neighbors. 

One quoted attorney stressed that cases may end in settlement. That outcome requires negotiation, drafting of documents, processing of payments, and client discussions. He stressed that resolution has positive benefits for both the injured and their employers. Despite attorney offices being open, those tasks and goals may be more difficult without access to payers like adjusters or risk managers, case managers with details and documentation, and more. 

Not least among these are the dedicated team that manages the mediation and adjudication of disputes. There are a mere 165 (approx) judges, mediators, and staff in the Florida OJCC. Despite the challenges they all face, they are stalwart in their roles regarding this process, regarding the employees and employers that depend upon it. In a state of 21.3 million people, this tiny state agency strives to remain on course. 

In the end, it is likely that many involved in the workers' compensation community are in fact "essential." They have diverse roles and responsibilities, but they bring individual and collective contribution to the operation of this community. The what and when that is critical from each may vary from person to person, from situation to situation. But, there are a great many "essential" individuals in the collaboration that is required by litigation and resolution of workers' compensation issues. 

I am grateful for you being engaged and involved. Whether you are in the office as "normal," or adjusting to the telecommuting challenges, you are "essential." You are the strength of this community, and a benefit to the many employers and employees it serves. Thank you for all you do.