February 2012

Simple Solutions to Complex Problems? Are There Magical Fixes for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation?

February 28, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

Your North Carolina workers’ compensation issues are so diverse (and possibly hard to catalog) that you get a headache just thinking about all the fires that you have put out.

Let’s just surface a few of the deep obstacles holding you back:

•    You’re no longer bringing in income;
•    You are in constant chronic pain;
•    You’re confused about your medical prognosis and probably more than a little scared;
•    You have no idea how long it will take for you to recover your function – or how much of your function you can recover;
•    You may be fighting more with your spouse, family members, friends, and others who want to help you;
•    You may be completely confused and overwhelmed by all the different sources of North Carolina workers’ compensation “wisdom” on the web and elsewhere;
•    You may be locking horns with an uncooperative employer or shady insurance company;
•    You may be dealing with chronic problems that were draining your attention before you got hurt at work (e.g. relationship drama, struggles caring for an elderly parent, financial pressures, an imminent foreclosure, etc.)

It might be worth it to pause from reading this for a second and pick up a pencil or a pen (or open a Word document). Go ahead and type out your own list of problems and concerns associated with your workers’ comp claim.

If you filled out more than a single sheet of paper, you would be in the vast majority of beneficiaries (or want-to-be beneficiaries).
Bottom line: you’re dealing with a lot of complex, diverse and scary “stuff.” And you probably are laboring under the belief that you will need to solve each one of these “fires” separately.

That might be true. But we might be able to borrow from the insights of complexity theory to find a way around your issues. Complexity theory tells us that simple problems can have complex causes; conversely, complex problems can have simple solutions.

Perhaps, then, small changes in perspective, behavior, habit, or thinking can “knock out” many of your chronic problems at once. Here are three speculative “hacks” which can help you get started. These three ideas have a significant empirical and scientific support. Educate yourself by reading the references at the bottom.

1. Mindfulness Meditation

The ancient art of meditation traces its roots across cultures, religions, and continents. Most people associate “meditation” with Eastern traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, etc. But meditation like states are often created through other traditions – Catholics who count rosaries, for instance, are engaging in meditative practice. Recent scientific analyses of the effects of meditation on the brain suggest that mindfulness can be a powerful way to treat a vast number of ailments, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other psychological traumas.

2. Low Carbohydrate Diets

In their bestselling book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, doctors Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney discuss dozens of carefully controlled studies that suggest that a properly formulated low carbohydrate diet (low in easily digestible starches and sugars, in particular) can essentially cure metabolic syndrome (which includes diabetes, obesity, and many other ailments associated). Essentially, the low-carb diet theorists suggest that obesity and many diseases result from problems with insulin signaling. Low-carb diets normalize insulin levels and thus help people heal from these problems.

3. Strength Training

In their book, The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution, authors Fred Hahn and doctors Mike & Mary Dan Eades debunk many common myths about fitness and exercise. In particular, the authors suggest that individuals who engage in regular, safe muscular strength training can protect themselves and/or heal from a staggering range of problems, including chronic lower back pain, osteoporosis, etc.

Of course, you need a guide to help you synthesize and structure your recovery. A North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can point you in the right direction and connect you with more powerful resources to succeed.

More Web Resources:

The Benefits of Strength Training for Rehab?

A Simple Solution (low-carb) for a Complex Problem (obesity)?

An Easy, Simple, Dare We Say Fun Way to Cut North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Costs?

February 23, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

Discussions about how to get North Carolina workers’ compensation costs down are often dire and filled with gloom and doom.

In fact, as soon as we start talking about workmen’s comp, our minds inevitably get drawn toward worst case scenarios:

•    A worker losing a finger in a cutting machine on a factory floor;
•    A loyal secretary developing a wicked case of thoracic outlet syndrome after typing too much on her computer without a break;
•    A delivery worker suffering spinal damage on his way to drop off a bag of Indonesian food, etc.

We also get drawn into speculation about who is to blame for problems with North Carolina workers’ compensation: indulgent employees, careless employers, unsavory insurance companies, inept bureaucrats, bought and paid for legislators, etc. In other words, everyone paints everyone else as the bad guy.

Lost in this blame game is an opportunity to find experiments in workers’ comp cost management that actually pay dividends…and then applying the lessons of those experiments on a broader scale.

For instance, consider a recent, relatively arcane story in the world of plastics manufacturing. According to a blog post on www.plasticsnews.com, employees at Meredith Springfield Associates, Inc. managed to help their company slash accident rates and workers’ comp insurance costs. In 2006, the company paid $100,000 in claims. In 2011, the company paid out just $40,000 in claims. Meredith Springfield is a diverse industrial company that works on extrusion blow molding and engineering for industries as varied as packaging, food, and medical. All told, there are 50 employees in the company.

So, how did this company slashes its workers’ comp costs? Simple.

According to the company’s president, Mel O’Leary: “five years ago, we didn’t have a great safety record…that all changed when we made an investment in specific machine guarding and automation and started a more in depth safety education program.” That program included a cool incentive program to encourage employees to remain accident free. A technician named Scott Hirsch won first prize in this competition – a $10,000 trip to the Bahamas.

You might be tempted to sniff at these “small scale” numbers – the company saved $60,000 on insurance costs in exchange for paying out $10,000 to this employee – but don’t be fooled. Imagine this on a broader scale. In other words, what if we could extract lessons here and create similar incentive programs here in NC? For instance, at a bigger company, maybe you could save $600,000 in exchange for $100,000 of rewards. That’s $500,000 saved. Now imagine if a hundred different companies across North Carolina adopted a similar regime and achieved a similar cost savings. Now you have 100 times 500,000, which equals $50 million in savings. Now, we’re not just talking about pennies. We’re talking about a significant reduction in the burden on the North Carolina workers’ compensation system as a whole. Very interesting.

On a more practical note, if you’ve been struggling to deal effectively with your employer or an insurance company or a state bureaucracy, you might benefit significantly from discussing your matter with a qualified North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

Contest helps hold down workers’ comp costs

Finding experiments in the real-world that work – then applying them on a broader scale

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Fraud Alert: 18 People Busted for Major Scam in NY

February 21, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

Let there be no doubt: if you are charged with and convicted of North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud (or grand larceny, false statements, conspiracy, etc), you might face massive jail time, astronomical fines, and other penalties.

A disturbing case of New York workers’ comp fraud has been circulating in the blogosphere. 18 people in 13 counties across New York were arrested in a state-wide crack down. One of the accused, John Czechowski, allegedly took $12,000 from a New York state insurance fund. He suffered a back injury while doing roofing work. Investigators found that he was working off the books for a different company while continuing to collect workers’ comp for the back injury.

Commenting on the case, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Financial Services blamed fraud artists for victimizing both companies and taxpayers. He emphasized that the state will end fraud to reduce the cost of insurance for workers’ compensation.

Case in Context

It’s easy to understand why fraud poses such a problem – not just for individuals who need money to pay for time off of work and medical costs, but also for employers and even insurance companies. When scam artists drain money from the system, those costs must be compensated. It’s not as if North Carolina can just print more money and call it a day. That money gone becomes money taken out of everyone’s pocket.

There is also a more subtle danger: fraud degrades trust.

Insurance companies who have been ripped off will institute more strict investigative rules to check up on future claimants. Legitimate claimants will then find themselves put through the gauntlet and often interrogated at length. This can be a stressful experience, if you’re in the middle of recovering from an injury.

As the network of trust unravels due to fraud, everyone pays in ways that transcend purely financial repercussions.

Given that you are not in a position to stamp out fraud yourself – you just want to make sure that you get fairly and justly treated by the system – what should your next steps be?

An experienced and a reputable North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you come up with the most appropriate plan and protect your assets and rights.

More Web Resources:

New York state workers’ compensation fraud dragnet sweeps up 18 suspects

How fraud damages trust in the system

Is 10% All It Takes for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation to Change?

February 17, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

The behemoth that is the North Carolina workers’ compensation system seems like a tough beast to tame.

We want to smooth out inequities, give employers breaks, enhance trust among insurers, employers and employees, and, most critically, help employees receive a fair piece of the “grand bargain”. It all sounds like a lot of work. And it might be.

But intriguing scientific research suggests that complex systems – such as the North Carolina workers’ compensation system – can be powerfully shaped and molded with “nudges” as opposed to “sledgehammer blows.”

Let’s unpack that for a second. When you think about large systems – systems involving 100s of millions of dollars, thousands of people and employees and insurance companies – we intuitively believe that, to create change, we need lots of top down power. For instance, we need massive top down legislation. We need a huge influx of cash. We need rate cuts. Or rate hikes, depending on your point of view.

While using a sledgehammer can sometimes get the job done, sledgehammer blows are problematic for a few reasons:

1. They require massive amounts of energy and resources, so you can only fire off a very few;

2. Calibrating sledgehammer blows is very difficult. For instance, say you’ve got a gangrenous arm. A doctor saw off your arm at the shoulder to save you. You’ve cured the gangrene, but you’ve done it in a very sloppy way. The gangrene is gone, but we have no idea why it grew in the first place or what we can do in the future to fix/prevent it. We burn through a lot of our resources needlessly.

3. Hard to replicate. A hammer blow can work one time for one type of problem. But what happens when another problem emerges (and problems always do emerge)?

An Alternative to the Hammer Blow – The Chisel Or The Nudge

Another way to change complex systems is far less cost and energy intensive.

The other paradigm involves using nudges or slight changes in pressure and perspective, applied over extended periods of time. For instance, here is a good metaphor to illustrate the power of nudging. It’s easy to give someone a bruise on his arm by punching him on his arm hard. It is also, however, possible to cause a bruise by putting slight but constant pressure on the arm for an extended period of time. You know how much it hurts if you sit in a chair in the same exact position for too long. The point is: we can nudge easily, without investing a lot of time and energy. We can also run far more experiments to try to nudge the system in the right direction.

Whereas we can only maybe fire one or two or three cannonballs a year at our North Carolina workers’ compensation problem; we can try hundreds of different nudges to get the system to come into line with our values and vision and expectations.

Master business theoretician Jim Collins discusses this kind of resourceful thinking in his recent bestseller, Great by Choice. Collins argues that enduring systems (be they giant companies or institutions like North Carolina’s workers’ compensation) can be shaped and molded most effectively through a process that he calls “Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs.” In other words, conduct small little experiments and try to reach your goals (bullets). Once you are able to “connect” with the bullets, then you fire a cannonball after the bullets to get a massive effect.

This approach doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes success much more likely.

More Web Resources:

Fire bullet, then cannonballs

Small Shift Yields Massive Results Over Time

Being in the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Minority

February 15, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

A majority of people who funnel through the North Carolina workers’ compensation system struggle, often for years, with problems ranging from financial pressures to ongoing medical “situations” to problems with employers and insurance companies to personal problems at home.

In other words, it’s no fun to be in the majority of North Carolina workers’ compensation beneficiaries.

You don’t have to be. In fact, most beneficiaries can get a lot more out of their experience as an injured/sick worker than they realize… just by bucking the conventional way of doing things and connecting with powerful resources, like a competent North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm (instead of just “going it alone”).

Separating yourself from the “crowd going off the cliff” is easier said than done. Here are some best practices to bear in mind as a proud member of the productive and successful minority:

•    Think positively and realistically.

Embrace what business management guru Jim Collins once called the “Genius of the And”. It’s good to be clear about where you are. It’s also good to be optimistic. But most people think that in order to be realistic, you also must be a pessimist. Nonsense. It is possible to see your situation clearly and to think positively.

•    Get help sooner than later.

Your perspective on your workers’ comp situation is almost certainly less and ideal. You have your own biases, negative emotions, and the lack of experience dealing with rehab and with recalcitrant insurers and employers. The longer you wait, the more your problems could stack up. Get help to break out of your ossified ways of thinking and acting.

•    Be. Do. Have.

Yes, your life is full of stress. Yes, you desperately need money. Yes, you are confused and scared about your career prospects and even about how you will feed your family and pay your medical bills. If you wait until some distant, undefined point of future to “relax” and “enjoy life,” you may never get there. In fact, the history is replete with ample examples of hugely successful, healthy, famous people who are miserable. Likewise, you can find examples of people in desperate poverty or people suffering terrible illnesses who managed to find joy in life. Don’t wait to “heal” from your workers’ comp problems. “Be” now. It will help you “have” later.

•    Take responsibility.

Human beings have a deep need for control. You may feel like you are out of control right now. You may feel crushed under a heap of “have tos” and “shoulds.” Recognize that giving up choice leads to pain and suffering. As psychologist Marshall Rosenberg once pointed out, the Nazi guards at concentration camps used a bureaucratic language called Amtssprache to justify their bad deeds. This language washed their hands of responsibility. It was full of things like “I have to” and “it’s orders” and “I must.” Once you surrender your autonomy, you surrender your humanity. Take responsibility for what’s happening in your life and for the actions you take next.

More Web Resources:

Amtssprache– the language of no autonomy.

The Overpowering Minority

Change Takes Time… Or Does It? North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Transformation

February 13, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

If you are sick or injured – or if someone you love and care about needs North Carolina Workers’ Compensation – then you probably fear that you’re “in this” for the long haul. The problems with your health, finances, and career situation are not going to go away overnight. So you better get used to them. It’s going to be a long, hard grind. It’s going to take months or maybe even years.

Or perhaps positive change can come swifter than you realize!

That may sound like a pollyannaish statement. After all, many workers’ comp and workplace injuries are anything but simple to manage. In fact, somebody might even take affront to the suggestion that your injury or illness could be easily resolved. There is a subtlety here. Workers’ comp problems can last a long time and can lead to the “grind” we talked about earlier.

At the same time, however, when change happens, if often happens blindingly quickly. Ask famous writers, celebrities, and politicians about how they succeeded. You will come across a surprising pattern. Often, a person struggles for years, even decades, before a “lucky break” changes everything. Most people think in terms of “how can I make that lucky break happen for me?” For instance, they will try to win the lottery or hope for some other windfall.

But this way of thinking about your problems may not be particularly useful. In fact, the “lucky breaks” and the “swift changes” that follow do not occur spontaneously. They are nurtured and prepared by years of practice and – by consistently making small positive decisions and changes to behavior.

Once there is enough positive momentum going on, efforts can catch fire rapidly. It’s kind of like lighting a match. If you rub the match against the surface nothing will happen. As you rub faster and faster – still nothing. But once you hit some kind of a tipping point – FWOOM – the match suddenly bursts into flame and releases massive amounts of heat.

Likewise, so goes the transition from struggle to success. You struggle, struggle, struggle. Then one day, you “catch fire” and success seems inevitable instead of a distant dream.

The moral here is two-fold:

1. Avoid thinking in terms of “grand, one time fixes” to your North Carolina workers’ compensation problems.

Single decisions that you make – single behaviors or habits or thoughts that you have – are probably far less crucial than your overall habits and rituals. Instead of focusing on wiping out your problems with a single “smart decision” or a one-time phone call with a mentor, focus on winning the marathon.

2. Change, when it happens, can be swift and sudden.

For instance, say that you’ve lost the ability to walk effectively due to a knee injury you contracted at work. You might go through rehab for six to eight months, during which time you slowly but surely regain some capacity in your knee. Then one day, you notice that your knee “feels fine” and you’ve totally regained function. It took the six to eight months of rehab to make the healing happen. But once it did happen, it happened quickly.

Begin the path of good habits, good relationships, and positive outcomes by connecting with a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

The Revolution, When it Comes, is Often Swift

Tipping Point

Unleashing the Massive Potential of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation System

February 11, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

The North Carolina workers’ compensation system, like any large, bureaucratic institution, contains significant slack… as well as lots of potential.

In spite of last year’s legislative overhaul of the system, most lawyers, insurers, employers, and other interested parties agree that the system still contains a lot of “slack” – a lot of places where it could be reformed and improved. Likewise, the system also contains significant potential. For instance, with better diagnostic procedures, improved communications between insurers, hospitals and doctors; more equitable rules for employers and workplace safety instructions, who knows how much more “horse power” we could get out of the system than we currently get?

The million dollar question is: how do we extract more value from the resources that we already have in place?

The answer is: there are a thousand and one ways we could unlock the potential.

To find “win-win” outcomes, however, we’re going to need a little creativity and coordination. We need to encourage “what if” thinking and collaborative brainstorming among interested parties. Imagine, for instance, what might happen if we got insurance company representatives, business owners, and labor leaders together to “blue sky” solutions to their problems.

Unfortunately, our system is highly politicized. We tend to see counterparts as adversaries instead of as partners. There is a significant trust deficit, in other words, that’s probably preventing interested parties from talking through their needs and problems. Thus, a key challenge for anyone interested in North Carolina workers’ compensation reform (or reform of any aspect of North Carolina governance, for that matter) is the challenge of how to develop and nurture trust. What can we do to break out of our old ways of interacting, judging and blaming and manipulating one another?

Obviously, this single blog post cannot begin to tackle these monumental, existential questions. But we need to ask these questions, again and again, until we get better answers.

The point is: we have so much latent potential. Insurance companies, business owners, employees, North Carolina workers’ compensation law firms, and other interested parties can all achieve so much more. Our challenge is really a challenge of empathy. How can we start to listen to one another and work towards mutual goals – “win-win” solutions? What can we do to move beyond seeing one another as enemies or antagonists and begin to see one another as allies, fighting a noble cause together?

More Web Resources:

All it Takes is 10%

An Empathy Revolution?

Why Do Your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Struggles Seem so Gosh Darn Complicated?

February 7, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

On the surface, the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation system is pretty simply set up. Yes, there are many rules and regulations. Yes, the nature and extent of your injury/sickness can play a key role in the structure of your benefits. Yes, you can run adrift of problems with a mean or cranky employer or an insurance company that acts in an aggressive manner.

But all that said, applying for workers’ compensation is substantially less difficult than rocket science or brain surgery…or at least it should be.

So why do so many beneficiaries (or want to be beneficiaries) endure so much trouble?

Even well-educated, tenacious folks who commit time and energy to really understanding the system can run aground of horrific problems. And these problems are not trivial, either. If you approach your workers’ comp struggles incorrectly, you may wind up with less than fair benefits. For instance, in a best-case scenario, perhaps you could receive $500 a week. In a less than ideal scenario, you could end up with $300 a week. That’s a difference of $200 a week – $800 a month, nearly $10,000 over a year. That’s a substantial amount of money to “lose,” especially if you are already swamped by debt, medical bills and unexpected expenses. In other words, there’s plenty of incentive to do workers’ comp “right.”

Perhaps many people struggle not because they lack for motivation, discipline, or intelligence but rather because they underestimate the complexity of their challenges.

In other words, they have been conditioned to think that their problems are simpler than they actually are. You would never presume to be able to understand — deeply “grok” — the workings of a jet engine or nuclear physics by just reading a few pamphlets or chapters in an elementary textbook. Why, then, should you presume that you would understand the intricacies and subtleties of workers’ compensation after just some basic, superficial study?

The rejoinder, of course, is that the level of complexity is radically different.

But is it really?

Think about any great skill. You’ll realize that you need to dedicate a rather profound amount of time in practice (ideally, guided by a mentor) to achieve any degree of mastery. This doesn’t just apply to complicated tasks like engineering engines or playing the violin, but to basically any human task, such as walking (babies need a lot of practice), handwriting (how long did it take you to learn how to write your name in cursive?) and so forth. In fact, journalists like Malcolm Gladwell and Geoffrey Colvin have argued that people need 10,000 hours of practice on a specific skill before they can achieve mastery.

Fortunately, you don’t need to “master” workers’ comp on your own. You could instead partner with a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation law firm to take advantage of someone else’s skill, practice and mastery to achieve your ends much faster and with more certainty.

More Web Resources:

10,000 Hours to Mastery

An example of how we underestimate complexity (from the world of diet and nutrition)

Time for a Career Change after Your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Injury?

February 2, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

The injury/illness that you suffered at work – and that’s led to a desire to file a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim – altered your physical, mental, and spiritual goals in ways that you’re probably only beginning to understand.

As you grapple with the manifold and developing challenges, your thoughts will occasionally turn to questions like:

•    What will I do once I’m healthy?
•    How much function will I regain?
•    What will it be like to go back to my old job if I make a substantial claim against the company? Will it be weird?
•    Will my injury, accident, or illness change my career goals? If so, what should I do about this?

It’s important to get thoughts like these out on paper, so you don’t have them clanging around in your head, causing you stress.

Once you’ve written your worries down on paper, try this useful exercise:

1. Spend about 5 or 10 minutes on each question (you can also generate your own questions) and brainstorm answers.

Don’t constrain your thinking. Just spend some time writing free form. Your subconscious will likely pour out its deepest secrets onto the paper for you.

2. Give yourself a break. Come back to these questions tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and do the exercise again.

Once you’ve generated a lot of ideas, you’re going to see patterns in your thinking. For instance, maybe you kept writing things to the effect of, “I really need to find a different job, I don’t want to do this kind of work, and I physically can’t do it anymore.” If so, then really take that message to heart and brainstorm ways around the constraint.

3. Probe and ask questions to solve your problems.

Are there other jobs that you would like to do? Can you apply your training to other jobs? Can you make a vertical or horizontal career move? Compile the questions that stem from these answers, and then brainstorm answers just like you did in the first exercise.

4. For help dealing with your logistical and legal battles, connect with a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

Brainstorm Exercise to Help You Find Root Causes

Asking Yourself Why: Again and Again