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Luna: Let the People Choose

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I’m continuously inspired by the journeys that leaders in workers’ compensation take on their path to the industry. Such rich, diverse and, in some cases, heartbreaking backgrounds serve as the ideal bedrock for a system that serves people who have been injured on the job — left feeling vulnerable, mourning and in dire need of empathy.

Carlos Luna

Carlos Luna

On Sept. 24, the Comp Laude Awards and Gala featured eight industry leaders as part of the People’s Choice Awards, which is quickly becoming the signature event of the conference. This group of individuals represented the legal, medical management, client services and marketing business verticals in workers’ comp. One presenter, a past injured worker himself.

All excellent orators. All inspiringly passionate. All perfectly human.   

Knitted together in purpose 

The idea of eight various stories delivered by eight various individuals at eight various tempos and styles is enough to make the most patient listener uneasy. This is, in my opinion, where the People’s Choice Awards has staked its claim as Comp Laude’s premier event.

People’s Choice Awards emcee Greg McKenna is irreplaceable. He is highly skilled at taking each individual presentation, a colorful segment in and of itself, and masterfully knitting it together with the others to form a collective body of work — nothing short of a piece of art.   

Each year brings with it a unique collective theme. This year, the stories were arranged in order to mirror the rise and fall of energy — the propellant of change. The theme of “change” is apropos on so many levels within the context of workers’ compensation.

The psychology of change 

The various stories merged through what mental health professionals call the “change curve.” The term describes the pattern of energy that routinely commences after a change agent, or incident, is introduced and disrupts one’s environment (physiological and/or psychological).

The change curve is frequently used in the context of mourning segmented by three major phases: endings (stage 1), transitions (stage 2) and new beginnings (stage 3). In this context, the end is actually the beginning.

The journey in moving past, or moving forward, ends once a new beginning comes to fruition. Experts have validated that major life events can trigger a mourning-like process in an individual: Loss of job, physical injury, divorce, etc. Enter workers’ compensation.

Dr. Geralyn Datz, Mississippi-based licensed clinical health psychologist, offered the following insight respective to grief within the context of workers’ compensation: 

“When a worker is injured, there is an absolute grieving process, over the injury itself initially, because no one wants to be hurt. Many times, this resolves.

"For those who progress to chronic injury or illness, there is another grieving process that has to do with the loss of identity that can occur in work injury. To go from working to not, able versus not, and have shifts in roles at home and with friends, is a major challenge for most people. This is a real process that deserves understanding and time.

"To the extent that we can support the injured worker and help them get the rehabilitation and other supports needed to transform the injury from a loss to an opportunity — an opportunity to overcome a life challenge, to develop new skills and adapt to a new normal — is the way that we will help them treat their injury as a new beginning instead of an end.”

The presenters

The People’s Choice Awards presentations were strategically positioned to personify each milestone that comprises the change curve:

  • H. George Kagan, "The Admiral and I" — time.
  • Nina Boski, "Clear and Connected" — energy.
  • Laura Thomas, "Three C’s of Workers’ Comp" — shock/denial.
  • Diann Cohen, "Obstacles vs. Accomplishments" — acceptance.
  • Amy Holcomb, "Opioids: The Cascading Effect on My Family" — low mood/depression.
  • Paul Gold, "Adversity & Inspiration" — experimental.
  • Yvonne Guibert, "A Ft. Lauderdale Summer" — decision.
  • Doug Clark, "There is Good in Everyone" — engagement.

Each presenter was polished, knowledgeable and made it tough for the voting audience to select the 2019 People’s Choice Awards’ recipient. I’m not able to recap every presentation for practical reasons. Instead, I will share the moments that stood out to me as a member of the voting audience.

'The Admiral and I'

H. George Kagan is a defense attorney in Florida. He is soft-spoken, humble and speaks with profound wisdom. He is a very likeable fellow who can carry a conversation with just about anyone about nearly anything in life.

Kagan took the audience through an engaging sequence of events that included his involvement in a workers’ compensation claim that ultimately ended with the injured worker succumbing to his injuries and passing away. Years later, the injured worker’s father, a Navy admiral, invited Kagan to visit with him and his wife on the West Coast.

What started as a chance meeting, initiated by the admiral, between parties on seemingly opposite sides of the workers’ compensation process (Kagan a defense lawyer, and the admiral being the parent of the injured worker) has evolved into a friendship, founded on mutual respect and appreciation for doing what is right, between two very accomplished individuals.

'Opioids: The Cascading Effect on My Family'

Amy Holcomb oversees utilization review for a prominent workers’ compensation company. She has a delicate presence about her that instinctively draws the audience in for a closer listen.

“This is the first time that I have ever shared this story,” started Holcomb. “115177 is my son’s name in the federal prison system.”

Immediately, the room was still and silent, and seemingly without oxygen as gasps from the audience became audible. I recall my heart rate elevating at the thought of what she would say next. Holcomb invited the audience, as one would a close trusted adviser, in to a difficult and intimate experience involving her son’s struggle with opioid addiction and the collateral damage sustained by her family unit.

Her son’s experience was not uncommon: diagnosed with a soft tissue sprain/strain and was given a polypharmacy prescription for hydrocodone and soma. Her family immediately spiraled down the slippery slope that most workers’ compensation professionals only read about. Yet, here she was. One of our own sharing her personal heartbreaking story of how prescription narcotics punished her family with an impact that may be felt for generations to come.

After time, homeless and desperate for a fix, Holcomb’s son turned on his own family. Becoming verbally and physically abusive, he burglarized the very place he once called home while victimizing the people who advocated most for his recovery — his family.

Holcomb’s courageous recounting of the events was difficult to listen to without becoming personally vested. After all, prescription opioid/addiction-speak has become so commonplace in our line of work that at times the real-world implications are taken for granted.

Holcomb’s final declarations to the audience were delivered with gut-punch power: “You have the power to help stop this. You have the power to save a family.”    

'A Ft. Lauderdale Summer'

Yvonne Guibert is a marketing consultant who has worked with numerous national workers’ compensation brands. She has consistently supported WorkCompCentral and has been a very visible supporter of the Comp Laude Awards. A seasoned public speaker, Guibert’s presentation delivery was eloquent and powerful.  

She placed the audience in a time capsule and ushered them through an exciting childhood experience with her father. It was a time of innocence and adventure with the rock in her life, a real-life superhero.

Guibert’s childhood was made memorable by water skiing outings as a toddler in her father’s arms to zip-lining on a backyard course made just for her. The stories were enough to make every thrill-seeking adventurer in the room jealous, and every hardened heart melt at the picture of a tough outdoorsman loving on his adorable baby girl.

Much like the plot of a best-selling novel, her stories of warm family outings were contrast by a dark and hurtful backdrop. Guibert’s time on the water and in the loving arms of her father was only half of the story. She was a victim of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of a stepparent. The depths of the pain and struggle that she had to endure were as impacting as the highs of the joy she felt when visiting her father’s Ft. Lauderdale home in summer.

Admittedly, Guibert’s story broke my heart. My emotions betrayed me as tears streamed down my face in rebellion. I wasn’t alone. The room filled with sniffles as young and old, men and women, people from all walks of life felt the pain that young Yvonne felt.

A seasoned storyteller, Guibert did not end her story on a low note. She proudly declared that better times have come upon her. She is no longer a victim of the her past, rather a victor basking in her future. She has continued on her own adventure. Her goal now is “to find herself as she once was at 10 years old. She was a total badass.”

Without a doubt, we live in era where trust is not easily given. Love and compassion seemingly elude society on large scale. The People’s Choice Awards, and Comp Laude in general, is a much-needed reminder that the workers’ compensation system is filled with extraordinary people who have, in their own right, endured unfathomable storms in life.

Broken, robbed and victimized at times, our people continue to rise to the challenge of caring for those who may in fact find themselves broken, feeling robbed and possibly victimized.

If the People’s Choice Awards class of 2019 presenters are any indication of the workers’ compensation community at large, I can’t help but feel that our injured workers are in good hands. The future is indeed bright.

Thank you to everyone involved in organizing the Comp Laude Awards and Gala, and more specifically the People’s Choice Awards. Thank you to the courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable by sharing their intimate stories.

I am equally inspired and challenged to do more, to be better. I hope you feel the same.

Carlos Luna is vice president of marketing and business development at Risico Total Managed Care. This column is republished with his permission from the Risico blog.

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