Thursday, February 27, 2014

Annmarie's Dad

I don't know Annmarie Geddes Baribeau any more than I might know any of you - I feel there is a relationship because of the intimate nature that social networking has evolved in our world, but I have never met her, never spoken with her, and until recently never written her.

She posted a very powerful piece about her dad yesterday, "Workers' Compensation: My Father's Story."

The title attracted me because of my father's recent illness and death and how I saw that as illustrative of workers' compensation, albeit on a more abstract level.

Annmarie has a much more direct story - the story of a proud, hard working man full of life, vitality, energy only to be done in by "the system."

Ugh - the pain I felt reading this piece was nearly too much to bear, hence this cathartic exploration of Annmarie's themes.

I thought of the Associated Press reporter who recently contacted me trying to quantify the cost of workers' compensation to her editors in a way that would make the everyday man or woman think about it, when Annmarie said that her father ultimately ended up on Social Security because the system failed him.

How much of the workers' compensation population ends up on the Social Security disability system because of this industry's failures?

I thought of MY dad who didn't have to go through the insult of workers' compensation, but did have to endure a slow degradation towards death.

How many injured workers get on a slow degradation path towards the death of self-esteem and worth because they don't get back to the job?

I thought of all of the misguided attempts to "fix" the system through the years, when really all that needed to be done was to just provide treatment that allowed a man (or woman) to return to earning a living.

I thought of claimant attorneys who in their zeal to represent the interests of their client fail to see what the real interest is - to return a person back to being "a man" rather than securing every possible medical procedure desired or as much compensation as can fit in a bank account.

I thought of the doctors who are not trained in occupational health failing to understand that the psyche is a more powerful indicator of successful outcomes than any physical treatment they could offer and that work is the essence of identity.

I thought of the claims adjuster who would like to provide all the benefits the law affords without question or second-guessing from outside cost control services or buckling under the weight of unmanageable case loads.

I thought of all of the workers in America who don't understand that workers' compensation is not a dispute resolution system, and is not a free handout, and is not a way to get time off with pay.

I thought of all the employers who see that workers' compensation premium come in the mail and pay it only because if they don't they might go to jail even though all of the claimants are fraud.

Mostly though I thought of the reality of workers' compensation; that, as Annmarie states, has improved in so many different ways since the late 1980s, but still has a long way to go.

It's not that workers' compensation is fundamentally flawed. It's that we have fundamentally flawed expectations from it.

When we go back to day one and simplify the equation to the basics of providing injured workers with treatment and compensation in exchange for the employer's civil suit immunity, the system makes sense.

The noise that came along with attempts to make that equation more succinct or relevant to a particular industry or individual has drowned out the main mission.

Obviously there are those who don't respect the law, don't do their jobs, don't like accountability or punctuality.

Those people are the minority, but cause a lot of problems for the rest of us.

I go back and forth, obviously, about the relevance of workers' compensation in today's world. Sometimes I whine about systemic problems. Sometimes I praise what I believe to be a good value to society when all goes well.

Mostly though I believe that we don't need to "fix" workers' compensation. We just need to make what we have work properly by all of us doing our jobs to the best of our abilities; respecting the law, being accountable and punctual.


  1. David, Thanks for writing such a wonderful blog in response to my post about my father. I am honored. --Annmarie

  2. David,
    As always, a great piece. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Annmarie in the same way as you - social media and a few emails. Very nice person.

    I especially agree with you final paragraph. And in light of many (most?) of today's politicians, the part of respecting the law certainly strikes a cord.