The Bureau Bulletin - August 2018News and Updates from the Tennessee Bureau of Workers' Compensation
The Court of Workers' Compensation Claims (CWCC) Blog was recently recognized as one of the best workers' compensation blogs in the entire country! Blogs were ranked by an independent panel of judges for their content quality, value, and timeliness of topics. Out of more than 200 blogs considered, the Court's blog, From the Bench, ranked #17. Between the blog evaluation process and the time the winners were announced, the Court turned four years old. At this milestone, the blog was renamed from The Court of Workers' Compensation Blog to From The Bench. This recognition is a remarkable achievement given the limited resources that the Court can dedicate to this resource.
Congratulations to each of the Judges and court staff for this outstanding recognition.
New standards regarding claims took effect on August 2, 2018.
Revisions to the Claims Handling Standards include requirements for adjusting entities to designate a liaison to the Bureau to serve as a primary point of contact, clarification on the steps to file claims if the SSN is missing or unknown, deletion of the requirement to have a claims office in the state, and new requirements for making contact with the injured employee that includes providing employees notice if their benefits are changed or terminated.
The Tennessee General Assembly requires the Bureau to produce an annual report on the effects of the 2014 Reform Act per TCA 50-6-134. This year, we highlight the expediency of our court system, the added assistance of an ombudsman attorney for unrepresented parties, new educational materials, and the start of the new "Next Step" program. We report how our mediations resulted in settlements 77% of the time. Read more by downloading the report.
Adjusters who handle workers' compensation claims for Tennessee employers have already begun to accept our offer to facilitate a voluntary educational program. We designed the program to educate adjusters about the requirements of Tennessee's workers' compensation laws, rules and regulations. The purpose of this program is two-fold: to assure that injured employees are treated fairly, and to assure that Tennessee workers' compensation claims are handled in an appropriate and uniform manner.
The program recently certified it's third class of adjusters. Thus far, all three of these classes have been in Nashville, so it's time to stretch outside of Music City towards the Home of the Blues. The next class will be hosted in Memphis on August 28th and 29th and it will be followed by a class conducted at Dollywood on September 18th and 19th. These may be the last classes conducted this calendar year, but fret not, more classes will be scheduled throughout next year.
Each class is limited to about thirty people. The class size is kept small intentionally. The level of engagement and overall quality of the training benefit from a more focused classroom size.
As part of the certification, the names of all certified adjusters can be viewed online.
Phyllis (PJ) Smith, Supervisor in the Bureau's Jackson Office, Retires
Imagine going to work where you are the only employee, with no computers, not even a calculator or typewriter. This is how the journey began PJ Smith on April 1, 1978. The irony that this was April Fools' Day was lost on her for several years.
Mrs. Mildred Johnson was the Director at this time. She bought her assistant into the office and introduced PJ to Sue Ann Head, Administrator of the Division of Workers' Compensation. Sue Ann trained PJ and remained her friend and mentor for over forty years.
Computers had been invented, but the Labor Department did not have them. The phone system actually had three incoming lines, and this was thought to be state of the art. After the first year, PJ managed to get a calculator, which she still has today. Soon, she moved into a private office, got a typewriter and a phone, and began to travel in order to provide information to employers and medical providers. She also went to factories and businesses to assist them in setting up their workers' compensation programs. She recalls that before her public presentation, she had to stop on the side of the road to throw up. From this point forward, she gained confidence and began doing WC 101 seminars across West Tennessee, including Memphis and Nashville. After Sue Ann became Director, she chose PJ to provide information on how she maintained such a high success rate of getting claims paid. This information was developed into new job responsibilities when the job classification was upgraded.
In 1992, the workers' compensation world changed due to the 1992 Reform Act which brought many changed in the statute and a new process called mediation. PJ remembered being equally excited and scared. She promoted into the Benefits Review program as a Specialist I, later becoming Specialist II, and then a Specialist III. Soon after, another specialist and a secretary came on board in the Jackson office. She still jokes about learning how to operate the BRAT system which was the precursor to our current computer system, and more specifically, how to use the MOUSE! In late 1992, the first specialists hired were trained by federal hostage negotiators and a female judge from Georgia who had just left the bench to start an arbitration firm.
Since mediation was voluntary in the first years of the Reform Act, PJ met with several West Tennessee judges to encourage mandated mediation. They all agreed to mandate their counties starting on January 1, 1993. Each judge issued a local rule mandating mediation and instructed the clerks to send PJ the filings. Her office floor - and the bottom shelf of her coffee table at home - soon became full of filed lawsuits. She created a request form from one of the judge's pre-trial memorandum. This was ultimately adopted as the Division's RFBRC (Request for Benefit Review Conference) form. PJ and the other specialist traveled to courtrooms to observe workers' compensation trails as well as the Supreme Court for West Tennessee appeal hearings in order to learn as much as possible about workers' compensation, attorneys, and the process in general. Soon, two more specialists were hired. Lori Miller then arrived as a secretary. PJ thought that Lori probably wanted to leave when she saw how many boxes of forms and documents were waiting for her to process and enter, but she stayed and is still with the Jackson office today!
Due to the volume of BRC's, the Jackson office conducted anywhere from two to five per day. She recalled wagging laptops, printers, and files all over west Tennessee In 2004, she was promoted to Program Coordinator.
There have been many specialists, now called mediators, and several secretaries now called administrative assistants who PJ trained. Many of these are still with the Bureau today. Her mantra has always been that we can never be too busy to serve our customers. Even after 40 years and 4 months she still loves her job. Through the ups and downs, PJ still says that she has been privileged to work for, and with, an exceptional team of people.
She has been a part of many changes during her tenure. For over 25 years, a framed poster has been outside her door, which sums up Pj's work life and personal life. She also includes the same message in the closing of her emails: "Change is to give up what we ARE to become what we COULD BE."
We would like to take a few moments to commemorate the former Administrator of the division of Workers' Compensation, Ms. Sue Ann Head, who passed away on May 28th, 2018. Her long, tough fight with leukemia is over. Though she has left us, her memory lives on through the impact of her work and her character.
She was the epitome of dignity, grace and southern charm. Her word was her bond. Hardly a moment passed where she wasn't smiling. She led with her mind and taught with her heart. Sue Ann cherished family - both her personal family and her work family. If you worked for her, she was your mentor.
Her career with state government spanned more than 45 years. Beginning in 1966 as a secretary, Sue Ann worked for the state and was later appointed to Assistant Director in 1979 and Director in 1982. For 30 years, she led the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Division through reforms in 1992 and 2004 which led to the implementation of programs like Benefit Review, Case Management, Utilization Review, Drug-Free Workplace Program, Uninsured Employers Fund, Penalty Program, Fee Schedule, MIR Registry, Admin Review, and the Employee Misclassification Education and Enforcement Fund. Our annual educational conference was Sue Ann's idea in 1996.
Her service to this industry was not limited to state government. Sue Ann served on the Executive Committee of the Southern Association of Workers' Compensation Administrators and then as the President in 1991.
Sue Ann is survived by a daughter, Molly, grandson, Will, and son-in-law, Rob.
May her spirit live on in those whose lives she touched.
Thank you to everyone who attended this year's conference. Together we learned how to "Build a Better Tomorrow" by refocusing the lens and widening the shot. Jessica Stollings began with a great kickoff presentation that explored generational differences as an opportunity to learn from one another and grow in the process. If that isn't enough to refocus, Mark Pew and Dr. Jeffery Hazlewood discussed the opioid epidemic and how to avoid the disability mindset. Zooming out even further, Dr. Marcos Iglesias introduced the Biopsychosocial Approach which looks at the injured worker as a whole person and assesses treatment by looking at a variety of backgrounds, environmental factors, personal motivations, personality types, and so forth. Kevin Glennon, Curtis Weber, and Terri Bryson zoomed in on the needs of an aging injured worker, an eye-opening testimonial, and the future of work, respectively.
Based on the feedback we received, everyone really enjoyed the legal ethics class. This may sound strange if you missed the class, but our Court of Workers' Compensation Claims judges created a humorous video parodying many issues and ethical violations. Throughout the session, the video was paused and dissected for discussion.
If you were not able to attend this year's conference, go ahead and mark your calendar for next year's conference. We've booked the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro for June 12-14, 2019. Registration opens in March 2019. If you're subscribed to this newsletter, we'll talk more about in the months leading up to the conference.
"Next Step" Program
In the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 344, which established a Subsequent Injury and Vocational Recovery Fund for payment of educational benefits for injured workers who were unable to make a meaningful return to work at the prior job after suffering a work injury. This assistance program is available for injuries on/after July 1, 2018. Rules have been drafted to establish the processes and procedures for the program, which has been named the "Next Step" program by the Bureau. A rulemaking hearing was conducted in the Tennessee Room at the Bureau's Nashville office on June 21, 2018. A final version of the rules has been sent to the Attorney General for review, and once the final version of the rules is signed by the Attorney General, the Bureau will proceed through the Government Operations Committee process.
Procedures of Public Records into Rules
Pursuant to legislation that was passed by the General Assembly in 2018 (Public Chapter 712), all state governmental entities must, by January 1, 2019, promulgate rules, rather than adopt policies, to establish a process for making requests to inspect or receive copies of public records, for responding to requests for public records, and for the creation of a statement of any fees charged for copies of such records.
A public rulemaking hearing will be held in the Tennessee Room at 220 French Landing on August 30, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.
UEF Benefit Disbursement
The Bureau is also in the process of drafting rules for policies and procedures for benefits to be disbursed from the Uninsured Employers Fund pursuant to T.C.A. 50-6-801 et seq.
A public rulemaking hearing will be held on October 16, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.
CWCC Procedures into Rules
The Court of Workers' Compensation Claims is in the process of combining its policies and procedures with current meditation and hearing procedure rules, to be compliant with recent legislation (Public Chapter 929) mandating policies be promulgated as rules in most cases.
A public rulemaking hearing will be held in the Tennessee Room on October 30, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
In the last three months, 25,302 work-related injuries and 35 work-related fatalities were reported to the Bureau.
Competitive Water Skier. Sail Boat Racer, Black Belt, Bee-Keeper....and Appellate Judge
By Marshall L. Davidson, III
Speak with Judge David F. Hensley for long and he might just tell you that he is "from the coal fields of Kentucky and had a public education." Do not be fooled. You also may notice his distinctive southern drawl. Do not be fooled by that, either. Judge Hensley is "disarmingly bright and witty," says fellow judge Tim Conner.
Prior to his appointment as one of the three inaugural appeals judges stemming from the Reform Act of 2013, Judge Hensley practiced law in Chattanooga for more than thirty years in the areas of estates, construction law, insurance fraud and, of course, workers' compensation. He and his wife of thirty-five years, Dianne, have recently added two grandchildren to their growing family of two daughters and now four grandchildren.
But here is where this story takes an interesting, and perhaps surprising, turn.
Judge Hensley has an intense passion for sailboat racing. In fact, he and Dianne's first date was a sailboat race. Dianne had no idea what to expect or what to do, as Judge Hensley did not inform her they were going to be in a competitive sailing event. Instead, he merely asked if she wanted to "go sailing." And sailing they went, in a race.
It was only a matter of time before Judge Hensley and Dianne were sailboat racing throughout the eastern United States. In one race in particularly high winds, Dianne fell off the boat during the race. Instead of stopping to pluck her from the water, Judge Hensley yelled for her to swim to the shore where, eventually, he retrieved her.
Competitive sailing was not enough to satisfy Judge Hensley's adventuresome spirit, so he immersed himself in martial arts with his two daughters. After years of training and tournament competition, all three received their black belts.
Then, Judge Hensley's most ambitious competitive exploit began - water skiing.
Loving the water as he does, and looking for another adventure to share with his girls, the trio participated in numerous ski schools and clinics throughout the southeast, and it wasn't long before all three were competing nationally. One of the girls, Caroline, won numerous national and world titles. Judge Hensley was her coach.
The Hensley family attended ski events around the world, including South America, Europe, and Russia. One of Judge Hensley's favorite competitions was the 2009 World Games in Taiwan where he served as coach and manager for the U.S. Water Ski Federation. He was a proud coach and father when his daughter won a gold medal in slalom and bronze in overall.
Though he is well into his sixties, Judge Hensley still skis regularly. And he still races sailboats, though he has learned that it is best to quell his competitive spirit and retrieve his wife from the water when she falls overboard.
Since his daughters are now married and have kids of their own, Judge Hensley's focus is turning to the new generation in his family. He is teaching his two oldest grandchildren to ski. He had them upright behind the boat when they were just four-years-old.
Most recently, Judge Hensley has taken up beekeeping. Like a child watching fish in an aquarium, he enjoys watching the bees and is looking forward to harvesting the honey.
One more thing about Judge Hensley. The Governor just reappointed him for a term of six years on the Appeals Board. Congratulations, David!