There was a recurring theme at the Dana Point California Workers' Compensation and Risk Conference this week.
It wasn't the beach, surfboards or aloha.
And while SB 863 was a topic of most sessions, another theme overrode the subject matter and professional surfer Bethany Hamilton's inspirational keynote presentation kept going back to it.
The theme centered on the one thing that technical application of the law, regulations and claims management can not provide: support.
Or more accurately, a rock solid support network.
It came together for me when I was listening to Hamilton talk about the shark attack, the loss of her arm, growing up in a surfing family, her dedication to the goal of becoming a professional surfer and overcoming her disability - she had the unwavering and constant support of her family.
She kept coming back to this central theme - and the support of her sponsor/employer - Rip Curl.
There were many sessions about application of the technical details of SB 863. Interestingly, in many of these presentations speakers went back to the support network - how important it is that the injured worker feel and understand that the people behind the system were there to ensure success after the event that resulted in a claim.
Hamilton had an element that many injured workers lack, and which is paramount over everything - family support. It seemed every other sentence in her presentation was about the support of her mom, dad, brothers, and other family members.
This support and positive communications not only allowed her to deal with the loss of her arm, but to get back in the water one month afterwards and then go on to success in the professional ranks.
Many injured workers don't have that advantage. The best they can have is the support of the people that become engaged in the recovery process: the claims examiner, the doctors, and the employer.
Hamilton praised her employer, Rip Curl, for standing behind her through the ordeal, and thereafter.
Granted, Hamilton has a unique drive and the winning attitude that many don't have. That personal attribute makes a big difference in how one overcomes the adversity of trauma.
Some people are going to need more support than others. Some just need another person who will listen. Others need more material support.
Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, founder of the Work Injured Resource Connection and the Bags of Love programs in Australia gets that. Her success in helping injured workers overcome their adversity and return to gainful employment isn't about money, treatment or programs.
It is all about support - being there; providing the positive environment and emotional foundation that so many don't otherwise have.
Employers are critical in this equation. For many, employment is not just a means to a living, but IS the living. Work defines who we are, whether you're a professional surfer or a line worker sewing the product.
It takes a huge commitment in time, energy and emotion to provide this support. Sometimes that's not enough - but most of the time it's what makes the difference between successfully returning someone to work or relegating them to the disability polls.
Many employers and claims agencies have support programs and networks - and these are a great starting point. But we need to remember that workers' compensation claims are uniquely individual. Every single claim is as different as the person is behind the claim.
I think that for most of us in the workers' compensation industry the appeal comes down to making someone's life better after an adverse event. Providing support is exhausting and difficult.
When it works though, the reward can't be measured adequately.