Why Cleveland Needed Cavs’ Victory

 

To deeply appreciate the Cleveland Cavaliers championship victory, you had to grow up in Cleveland.

LeBron James, CC0 Public Domain

LeBron James, CC0 Public Domain

This is not just about basketball. It is about growing up in a city that since I was born, has taken too many negative hits.

The Cleveland of my youth in the 1970s and early 1980s was the nation’s laughing stock. As far as sports were concerned, all I heard about was how great Cleveland was. The Cleveland Indians rocked the nation in the 1950s, then there were the Browns’ victories in the early 1960s. It was insisted that the Indians, called the “sleeping giant” would once again become triumphant.

When Cleveland became intertwined with comedians’ one-liners, I don’t know. Some say it was when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Others say that it was terrible choices made by then lampooned Mayor Dennis Kucinich, now a socialist and a former U.S. Congressman.

Others say it is because Cleveland has generated so many comedians, ranging from Bob Hope to Drew Carey, whose television sitcom did not do Cleveland justice.

Whatever the cause, Clevelanders have been on the defensive for decades. To be a Clevelander is to have unmitigated devotion to an underappreciated city. If you lived in Cleveland during the late 1970s and early 1980s, you might remember Daffy Dan’s t-shirts that offered expressions like “Cleveland: You Have to be Tough.”

Or to quote from the song “My Town,” which was recorded by the Cleveland-based Michael Stanley Band, “love or hate her it don’t matter, for I am going to stand and fight.”

Cleveland has had to stand and fight for a lot of things. Just to have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its rightful place, Cleveland had to fight New York City tooth and nail.

As a displaced Clevelander, I still hear negative comments. “The Mistake on the Lake,” is just one of them. The only time I ever received sympathy as a Clevelander was in 1996 when Art Modell sold the Cleveland Browns to establish the Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland was and always has been a sports city, and the nation understands that.

_______________
Cleveland was and always has been a sports city,
and the nation understands that.
_______________

Cleveland’s economic demise, along with northeast Ohio, began in the 1970s when blue-collar jobs that could support families began to disappear. My father, a strong blue-collar worker, lost his job during that period. We lived off of unemployment for a time and mom went back to work. After dad found a job, we became a dual-income family before baby boomers made it a social phenomenon.

Cleveland made me what I am today, and like LeBron James, I try to give back as much as I can. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, it was Cleveland that began publishing my articles while I was in high school. Later, Cleveland gave me a radio show when I was a business reporter in the mid 1990s. Cleveland made me a tough, resilient and straight shooter, characteristics that do not generally fit well in the politically correct Washington, D.C. culture were I live today, but have made me a respected national journalist.

When the nation focused on Cleveland in 2013 after Charles Ramsey found girls held hostage and abused for years and saved them, the media was amazed by the “tell it like it is” Clevelander. To me, he was just a reminder of what I miss so much about my hometown: unbridled candor.

Celebrating Diversity

Cleveland is its own culture with its own melting pot. Starting off with a northern protestant culture from Connecticut in the 1700s, the so-called Reconstructionist period after the Civil War pushed often unwelcome white and black southerners to the town for work. From the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution to the end of World War II, Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Hungry, Ireland and Italy found Cleveland to be their land of opportunity.

Each group had its own community and sacrificed to build their centers of worship, but they also understood that to be an American, they needed to learn English and assimilate. In the 1970s, groups like the Lebanese Christians found Cleveland to be a welcome respite from the brutal realities of war.

_______________
In Cleveland, we did not need
intellectuals from on high
to tell us to celebrate diversity
because diversity is just who we are.
_______________

Our ears have become so sensitive to mentioning religion and ethnic background that we risk ignoring the cultural realities that shape who we are. In Cleveland, we did not need intellectuals from on high to tell us to celebrate diversity because diversity is just who we are.

In Cleveland, we do not ask someone about his or her nationality to be nosey, but to relate and find a shared acquaintance or place. Other uptight areas of the country, like the Washington, D.C. area where I have lived for the past 20 years, frowns upon such questions and that’s quite a shame. It is must easier to get to know someone in Cleveland than in the nation’s capital.

Cavs’ Victory

Cleveland should bask in its historic victory and party hard as long as possible. Eat, drink and be merry for the republican presidential convention next month presents another mood. Like Philadelphia, which is hosting the democratic convention, Cleveland has been bracing itself for an environment of protest and unrest not seen since the 1968 democratic presidential convention in Chicago. 

Meanwhile, this homesick Clevelander remains an ambassador to the nation’s capital.

 

 

Data Breach Vulnerability Not Just Due to Technology

About 21.5 Americans’ social security numbers and other sensitive personal information were compromised due to the hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, according to an article posted today on cnn.com.

It seems data breaches have become so common that those unaffected are undocumented workers or Amish.

How did personally identifiable information become so vulnerable? The answer isn’t limited to the technology.

Social Security Administration (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Social Security Administration (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Our vulnerability is actually the result of a combination of historical, social and economic factors. To improve protection of personal information, it is important to consider how we got here.

A Little History

Before social security numbers were assigned to Americans, identity was simply a person’s name. After spending decades on genealogical research, I can attest to the fact that before the 1900 census, the government asked very little personal information about Americans.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began the Social Security program as a response to the Great Depression, social security numbers were only to be used for the program. Old social security cards indicate that the numbers are “not for identification.” Just check out the Social Security card of Lee Harvey Oswald, who purportedly assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Over time, corporations got away with using social security numbers as identification for multiple purposes. It’s been necessary for obtaining credit or health insurance purposes since at least the mid 1980s. When I started college in 1986, my identity number was my social security number.

I suspect that cell phone numbers will also become a necessary form of identification that will evolve into being used on a “mandatory” basis just like social security cards.

A Generational Divide

Socially, the culture of the United States has changed from one of valuing personal privacy to one of perpetual sharing. “It ain’t none of your business,” was a very common retort when I was growing up.

____________
The vulnerability of Americans’ personal information 
is not just due to technology
getting ahead of us, 
but also to changing values of privacy.
___________

Millennials and younger are less likely to believe privacy is a big deal. This group most fully embraces social media and “sharing” – including Too Much Information (TMI) sharing that was once considered socially impolite. The ramifications of Facebook’s privacy policy might also surprise them. And honestly, I don’t think the younger generations care even though nobody really knows who is “listening.” 

For Americans to begin caring about personal privacy again, enough might have to suffer the consequences of losing (or even sharing) private information. For example, if you knew anyone who suffered through the Great Depression, you might have observed how that generation saved everything “just in case.” Because of the great suffering, Roosevelt got the support necessary to start social security.

But for now, Americans seem more engrossed in Caitlyn Jenner and gender identity issues rather than the ultimate identity issue: someone stealing yours and using it for criminal activity, extortion or even terrorism.

Some of this theft comes from information Americans willingly share on the Internet. Other important data, including financial and medical information, is being breached from the government and corporations. Combine that public information once stored on paper files and the opportunities for harm are endless.

We have already seen ISIS threaten individual military members and their families because Facebook can give a clue to their home and Google Maps will point the way there. Terrorists can certainly do the same to civilians as well.

As a Gen Exer, I was most influenced by the Baby Boomers. They were my younger professors who taught me women’s studies, gay politics and civil liberties. They all stressed that American freedom includes the universal right to privacy for all Americans.

Baby boomer President William Jefferson Clinton, along with Congress, thought protecting personally identifiable health information was a big deal. He was instrumental in passing through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). (Interestingly, workers’ compensation was excluded from the Act.)

For the majority of Americans, HIPAA is now just part of the pile of papers they need to sign at the doctor’s office. The law was enacted before the rise of Internet commerce and when Baby Boomers and older generations were the majority of the country. Complying with HIPAA only gets ting more difficult as paper medical records are being converted to electronic files.

Then Gen Exer President Barack Obama ushered in the Affordable Care Act, which throws medical privacy out the window. Now the federal government has access to your medical records because health insurers and medical providers are required to share them.

____________

For Americans to begin caring about personal privacy again,
enough might have to suffer the consequences
of losing (or even sharing) private information.
____________

Federal agencies are hardly safe custodians. Just ask the potential 9+ million past and present federal workers and our military whose data is now vulnerable to whoever hacked it.

Further, cyber incidents, including data breaches, are on the rise according to Verizon’s 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report.” Add to that 66 percent of accountable care organizations surveyed last year by the Ponemon Institute, who believe patient privacy risk has grown and do not have great faith in data security.

Conclusion

The vulnerability of Americans’ personal information is not only just due to technology getting ahead of us, but also to changing values of privacy. Looking back to history and considering past policy and social mores provides context for developing ways to promote privacy. I have a few ideas in mind and soon I will share them in a future blog.

What I Have Learned From My Daughter’s Concussion

When I wrote an article four years ago about football concussions and the impact on workers’ compensation and the related third party lawsuits, I had no idea that my daughter would sustain one that continues to affect her five months later.

My daughter joined her high school’s freshman basketball team in November. During practice, another team member elbowed her in the nose while they were both reaching for the ball. Previously, she played injury-free basketball for the four prior seasons.

When I picked her up from practice, she said her nose really hurt. Being hit in the nose a few times in my life, I told her it would go away and she would be fine. But the next day, the school athletic trainer called to tell me my daughter had a concussion.

So I took her to the doctor who advised her to avoid television, computer and mobile device screens and to just lie down and let her brain heal. By the next week, when was walking outside to a classroom, she fell of the curb and briefly blacked out. Thankfully, another student helped her up.

Naturally, I took her back to the doctor who produced a letter that requested a reduction in homework and we were told she was not to participate in any physical activity. Until Winter break, there were many times when she could not sit through a full day of school without horrific headaches.

 ________________

Due to my workers’ comp background,
I started wondering why there was not an academic equivalent
to what workers’ comp professionals call transitional duty.
________________

After about six weeks, the doctor referred my daughter to a concussion specialist. This is when I learned that due to heightened awareness, concussions have become quite the cottage industry. There are not enough experts in the D.C. metro area to handle influx of concussions.

She was given medication to help her headaches and gradually, she was able to get through a week of school without needing to come home early. But her teachers were expecting more than the doctor had indicated and were hassling her with incompletes and slightly modified workloads.

It turned out that the physician letters I was faithfully faxing to the school were treated only as doctors’ excuses for absence. It was time to become an advocate.

After a visit to the guidance counselor’s office, the teachers got on the same page — for the most part. But when the next semester ushered in an uniformed physical education teacher, my daughter was being asked to write papers about childhood obesity and other topics in lieu of physical activity.

________________

If you are a caregiver, assume the role of a case manager.
________________

Due to my workers’ comp background, I started wondering why there was not an academic equivalent to what workers’ comp professionals call transitional duty. So I wrote the gym teacher and offered a list of what she could and could not do. She responded that the doctor’s letter was not specific enough. The doctor wanted to know what the phys ed teacher wanted. I didn’t know. So I forwarded the teacher’s letter to the doctor. We’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, there have been extended waits for further testing beyond an MRI. Her nose still hurts but the ENT said with time it would resolve itself. We are still waiting to see other specialists.

It’s been five months since her date of injury. Unfortunately, her headaches continue and occasional dizziness continues. Here is what I have learned as the parent of a child who has sustained a long-term concussion.

  • It’s the first 48 hours after the concussion where rest and avoiding stimulation is the most critical. Unfortunately for my daughter, during the first 24 hours we had no idea that a strike to the nose also included a concussion so I was surprised to get the call from the athletic trainer.
  • If your child does not show signs of recovery in the first two to three weeks, see a specialist. If I know anyone who just sustained a concussion, I would make an appointment with a specialist because often there is a long wait.
  • If you are a caregiver, assume the role of a case manager. It is tough to not only manage the maze of specialists, but schools are still working on a comprehensive process and effective communication for interested parties. You must keep on top of this. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had done it sooner.
  • Keep track of symptoms and insist on specifics of what can be done physically to keep in shape.
  • Recognize that concussion awareness is putting concussion incidents at a nearly epidemic level. The medical field lacks the experts to handle the sudden influx from concussion awareness and honestly, I think they are still trying to sort out effective protocols.
  • Advocate for what the patient needs.
  • Finally, take every concussion seriously. When I was a kid, all my mother knew to do was to keep me awake because falling asleep could be a sign of losing consciousness. Get the injured person to a doctor as soon as possible and eliminate any sensory stimulating activity.

In the meantime, we are still waiting to see more specialists.

 

 

 

Lovin’ My Kirby Vacuum

After stripping the Yuletide adornment from my old Christmas tree, I dragged it to the curb, knowing the job was not yet done.

Faced with layers of pine needles scattered about, I considered using my husband’s beloved Dyson. The vacuum repair guy swears it is the best Dyson model ever made.

The miniature wind tunnel housed in the clear plastic mini can, however, had one problem. Layered with inner filters, I didn’t want to risk clogging her up only to have another project: taking her apart, finding an offending object and putting her back together.

Instead, I sought out grandma’s old Kirby vacuum. Having celebrating a 50th birthday a few years ago, Kirby is older than me. She was built in strong industrial Cleveland when a college education was unnecessary for family supporting work.

Made of thick steel with an easy-to-replace but strong fabric bag, Kirby is not as sensitive as the plastic new age vacuums. Like my hometown of Cleveland, she is tough, solid and not pretentious.

My foot pressed down on the floor adjuster, one solid metal click at a time. Unlike the Dyson, she does not have to kiss the floor to do her job. She’s heavier than the Dyson, and I might not need barbels if I used her more.

As I vacuumed, I recalled Kirby’s constant presence in my life, crawling after her as mom navigated it through the living room, pushing her as I grew up, watching grandma maneuver her with seasoned skill…. Kirby has rarely known a man’s touch.

After my nostalgia trip was over, I carefully emptied the pine needles and dust unto an open newspaper. After folding up the debris, I placed the package in my compost bin. I always love it when being green is really just doing things the old-fashioned way!

_______________

I have accomplished enough in my career that I am happy
to support my clients’ achievements.

_______________
Grandpa purchased Kirby for about $1,000. That remains a lot of dough for a vacuum cleaner, but it was a ton for a AAA insurance salesman in the 1960s. Given that his great granddaughters still use her, it was a fabulous long-term investment. Kirby can now be found on E-bay for about $25 to $75. But that is not the fate of grandma’s vacuum.

Her days are spent resting comfortably in my sewing room with my other grandmother’s Viking sewing machine. Also built in Cleveland, Viking set my other grandfather back $500 in early 1950s, but like Kirby, she is a workhorse built to last into future generations.

Viking is also from a bygone time when sewing was a necessity and not a hobby. She’s near my great grandmother’s treadle machine. Patented in 1886, she was the blue ribbon winner at the Belmont County Ohio Fair. She works without electricity. Talk about being green!

There is something transcending about using well-built, solid metal machines that were once the tools of the mothers who came before me. But unfortunately, I have little time to sew. Meeting real-time demands with disposable technology beckons me away from the past and requires me to adapt to an ever-changing future.

I’m the first person in the family to earn a college degree and the first woman to have a professional career. For my grandmothers, being a wife and mother – which remains a full-time-plus-job – was their purpose. Their greatest achievements were watching their children’s accomplishments, supporting their husbands and being the chief conductor of household affairs.

Like the matrons before me, I now take more joy in the accomplishments of my children than my own. My hard-earned career achievements do not matter to me anymore. In my office, I moved all my diplomas, awards and articles that have been written about me over the years and now proudly display the work of my young budding artists.

I am learning that the less my life is about me and the more it is about others, the happier I am. This applies to my clients as well. I have accomplished enough in my career that I am happy enough to support my clients’ achievements. After publishing more than 300 articles in my name, I am happy to write under someone else’s.

As far as Kirby, I am not the only one who appreciates her. Much to my delight, I found another fan of the Kirby Dual Sanitronic 50 Vacuum Cleaner. You can watch her at work at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b32TV8G0AVo

 

 

Waiting for My New Rolodex

After spending several days awaiting my new Rolodex, Staples just informed me that I need to wait a little bit longer.

Why on earth am I buying a new Rolodex when office software makes our lives more efficient?

Because having a Rolodex works better for me.

Yes, it’s true. I had two Rolodexes but was convinced that having my contacts in electronic address books was better. So I entered in my contacts and pitched the Rolodexes about 10 years ago.

Electronic address books are not working for me because they force my contacts in a stifling format that does not suit my needs. But this is secondary to the feeling of impending doom if I electronically lose all of my contact information.

When I was a full-time workers’ compensation reporter in the 1990s, my Rolodex cards were color coded. Each type of source, including insurance companies, self-insured employers, vendors, actuaries and others had a magic marker-highlighted color.

It was great because when I was starting to work on an article, I would pull sources by color, line them up on my desk and start contacting each one. When I was waiting for a response, I kept the cards in the front to remind me to re-contact folks if necessary. Can Microsoft do that…?

Times have changed. I have so many different types of clients representing a multitude of specialties and industries that color coding will help me jog my memory. Once again, I will be able to pick out sources by grabbing cards of the same color.

_______________
When I was a full-time workers’ compensation reporter in the 1990s,
my Rolodex cards were color coded.

_______________

My color categories will likely be prospective and current clients and subject matter that include topics including technology, actuarial, workers’ compensation, medical management and others. When a client asks me to do a project, I will be able to pull from my Rolodex cards and off I go.

Yes, maybe it sounds silly considering how much I write about technology. But I know what works for me. I am a tactile person who gets tired of sitting in front of a screen all day. When all contacts have the same format, the ones I am looking for are buried in more easily than 500 names and honestly, I remember details about people more than their names.

Perhaps I just process information differently than others. I still like to read books or pick up a magazine because it is easier on my eyes. I also like to forego email and pick-up the phone and call people. It seems more human and personable.

People laughed when my husband bought me an IBM Selectric, but they now sell for two to three times more. Other people are envious and tell me how they miss the Selectric because there are still tasks better done on the typewriter. (And by the way, I use the Selectric at least once a week.) In fact, typewriters are becoming more popular, thanks to hipsters. They’re also malware-proof.

Given all the security and spying issues that concern companies and consumers, perhaps more people will find themselves unplugging a bit more. Who knows, maybe the Rolodex will make a mini comeback just like typewriters.

Do you secretly miss your Rolodex or never let it go at all? Let me know in the comments section. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Thinking: Ebola and Workers’ Compensation

You know you’re a true workers’ comp junkie when you cannot hear the news without considering potential work-related implications.

Not long after Thomas Eric Duncan — the first known person to develop Ebola in the United States — died yesterday, a sheriff’s deputy involved with the case entered a hospital due to potential Ebola symptoms.

Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola. Medical providers from ambulance attendants, nurses and doctors to contractors, lab workers, police, border patrol officials, flight attendants and cleaning crew could theoretically be unknowingly exposed.

It is already a concern to employees. Nurses in the San Francisco have also expressed apprehension because they have not been properly trained to deal with Ebola. And after the CDC announced yesterday it will monitor passengers for Ebola at five major airports, airplane cleaning crews at LaGuardia Airport went on strike partly because they are concerned about being exposed to Ebola. 

But as I have pondered the potential Ebola crisis, I find myself having more questions than answers. While I personally have confidence there will not be a full blown Ebola epidemic here and I believe that public panic does no good, I do believe that workers will be effected before experts sort out how to combat the disease.

_______________
Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola.
_______________

My questions go beyond whether workers’ compensation will cover an employee who picks up Ebola during or in the course of employment. In principle, workers’ compensation should cover work-related exposure to Ebola as it does for HIV/AIDS. If for any reason, workers’ comp does not cover it, then there is always the tort system.

And really, many of questions are ultimately not just about Ebola, but any emerging illness that could warrant extra attention.

Below are some of my questions.

Regarding Prevention

  • What kind of workplace safety measures are needed that do not already exist for medical care providers?
  • Is the current personal protective equipment sufficient? The USAID is seeking more comfortable protective clothing. A Spanish doctor who started treatment on a nurse who contracted Ebola said the gear is too short and exposes skin
  • While the CDC and other experts insist that contracting Ebola through the air is highly unlikely, others disagree. Therefore, should workers wear face masks just in case? Viruses, after all, are live organisms that mutate.
     
  • If Ebola requires special training to prevent exposure, which agency will satisfy the workplace information employers need to know? Should employers turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the CDC itself?
  • When will this information be available to employers other than hospitals and clinics?

Regarding Ebola Treatment

  • If potential treatment medications are scarce, who will be the lucky ones chosen to receive it?
  • When treatment for Hepatitis C and AIDS costs more than $100,000 per patient, how much will Ebola treatment cost employers and insurers?

Regarding Workers’ Comp Case Management:

  • Knowing medical providers have already suffered from Ebola, do states and case managers need training to deal with any special considerations with Ebola cases?
  • Since Ebola is contracted and can lead to death in about a month – which is often less time than it takes for many workers to file workers’ compensation claims — will employers suddenly get better at encouraging immediate claim filing for better case management?
  • Will Ebola workers’ compensation claims be primarily retrospective?

Pondering Ebola or emerging disease and their effect on workers’ compensation? Please post your questions below. And, if you can answer any of my questions, please share them as well.

If you want to discuss these questions with me for another blog post, please write me at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

Be the First to Know! Follow Me by Selecting the Button at the Bottom Right Hand Corner.

Just Own It

Could you imagine how much the world would change if people just took responsibility for their actions?DSC_0070

It would certainly curb insurance costs and improve interpersonal relationships.

A recent interchange with one of my teenage daughters got me thinking about this.

It was a typical parent-teenager discussion, but it could have just as easily been between a conversation between boss and employee or within other relationships.

I asked my daughter to do something. She did not fully do what she was asked.

While trying to attain the answer to why she did not fulfill my request to pick up the glasses from the living room and put them in the dishwasher, her answers – which I would call excuses — led to fruitless and frustrating cross-examination.

Then she asked me, “Mom, what do you want from me?”

I looked at her and said, “I just want you to own it.”

“Own what?” she asked.

“I want you to own that you could have just put the glasses in the dishwasher instead of the ledge of the countertop where the sink is. I want you to own that it was lazy and you were leaving your job for me to finish.”

“Oh,” she said. The omission was acknowledged, thus dissipating all the aforementioned excuses.

Owning our responsibilities comes down to the decisions we make in our everyday lives. Our society is a mess because people do not want to own up to their flaws and mistakes. Too often, we make excuses or try to blame others.

_______________
The best way to reduce health care costs is to prevent,
as much as possible, the need for health care.
_______________

Just think how it affects the high cost of insurance. One of my doctors owned up to me that he made a mistake and he apologized. I accepted it, case closed. We agreed it would be good if more doctors were free to do that without fear of a lawsuit. Fortunately, states are implementing “I’m sorry” legislation so doctors can take responsibility without the apology being grounds for a lawsuit.

Workers’ compensation insurance is “no fault” coverage. It does not matter if the injury was caused by the worker or the employer, the injury is covered, period.

That is good for avoiding tort suits, which workers’ comp was designed to achieve. Employers, however, need to own up to their responsibilities of having safe workplaces, helping workers get their claims filed speedily, assuring the best medical care and offering return-to-work alternatives. This not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it saves money. Injured workers should do their part by following doctor’s instructions and doing their physical therapy exercises, as examples.

Consider rising health insurance costs, which were increasing exponentially long before ObamaCare. My guess is the main reason why health care costs are high is because too many of us are making unhealthy choices.

The best way to reduce health care costs is to prevent, as much as possible, the need for health care. It means working on taking responsibility for our individual choices. Obesity is a prime example. It not only largely explains our nation’s type 2 diabetes epidemic, but also is a co-morbidity that makes it harder to be healthy and recover from injuries, illnesses and surgeries. Sure, there are some who are genetically disadvantaged when it comes to their weight, but honestly, most of us are struggling with our weight — and we are talking about half the American population — because we eat more calories than we use.

Other people struggle with drugs or alcohol abuse. They need to own it before they can recover, and we need to support them.

­­_______________
It takes courage and character to own responsibility,
but it pays dividends in every part of life.
_______________

Owning it means paying attention to ourselves and making better choices. As I always like to say, friends do not let friends buy pants with elastic waistbands! I refuse to buy larger clothes when the pounds start to creep in. Writer and public relations are sedentary work that keep me sitting behind a computer. So I have to make extra effort to find ways to burn the calories I consume. My FitBit is helping me to realize when I am not active enough. So I take more breaks and find ways to keep active, like fitting in more household chores on a daily basis.

I am also trying to own that I do not always make the best food choices for my body  — especially when I get real busy.

Think about how much disability costs would drop if people owned their part in it. We know there are people on disability not so much because of their physical condition but because of low job availability. It’s easy to sit around and collect a check, but if people decided to own their futures by making positive choices in their health, education and work ethic, they could continue to be productive members of society.

It takes courage and character to own responsibility, but it pays dividends in every part of life. From our relationships to making healthy and active living a priority, all of us have something we need to own to improve our lives. You know what you need to do  —  just own it!

Workers’ Compensation: My Father’s Story

My Dad.

My Dad

My father was an injured worker. This is the first time I have ever written about this publicly. But since his birthday would have been this week, I am thinking about him more.

Dad was a renaissance man. After writing poetry, acting in plays and running cross-country in high school, he found himself loading trucks for a living to support his wife and family.

Though he was an alcoholic, he never allowed it to interfere with his strong work ethic. He never missed a day of work, no matter how sick he was. He was president of his local teamster’s union, but he hated advocating for workers who did not pull their weight.

He was a tough man. And he had these rules for keeping himself tough. He never wore a winter coat in Cleveland’s famously miserable winters until December to get his body used to the cold. He drank hot coffee in the summer to get used to the heat. 

While I was working to complete my journalism degree in the late 1980s, I was unaware that my father had filed a workers’ compensation claim with his self-insured employer. We did not talk much.

I did not know about his claim when I landed my first job at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. By the time I found out, he had been off work for two or three years due to back problems. This was the early 1990s, when the workers’ compensation cost crisis was starting to inspire employers to initiate activities to save unnecessary workers’ comp expenses, such as return to work.

His employer was not enlightened, so dad did not get a return to work opportunity. Instead, he sat home, waiting for the next hearing, the next letter from the attorney…you get the picture.

_______________
To use my dad’s words, he needed to work so he could feel like a man.
_______________

My parents’ divorce was finalized while my father was on workers’ comp. He told me later that not working was an important contributing factor that led to the divorce. He said he did not feel like a real man because he could not provide for his family and eventually, it pervaded his psyche. Ultimately, he ended up on Social Security Disability.

When I started covering workers’ comp full-time as a reporter in Washington. D.C., I did not tell anyone about my dad. My role as a reporter was objectivity, not advocacy. I kept my opinions to myself and kept them from my work. And I did right.

My dad’s experience did not cause me to become an advocate for injured workers in the traditional political sense. The political arguments were too shortsighted to me. I have always felt the best contribution I could make was to objectively report the truth about workers’ compensation for everyone’s benefit. I also try to inform injured workers when I can. To see more, please click here.

For example, one shortsighted political goal of injured worker advocates was to push for employee choice of physician. I had always wished, however, that labor and employer advocates worked together to ensure insured workers got the best medical care as soon as possible.

Dad might of thought it was great at first that he could get a break from work with the stroke of the doctor’s pen. But if he had known what we know now – that the longer a person is off from a work-related incident the harder it would be for he/she to return to their same earnings – he might have been a little more urgent about finding a solution.

We know now that he did not need the choice of physician; he needed an occupational physician to hasten recovery. He did not need a doctor that would sign an order to stay home from work, but one who encouraged him to explore ways he can earn a living with his disability.

My dad did not need a lawyer to fight with his employer so he could be out of work collecting benefits as long as possible. And he certainly did not need to lose a percentage of his benefits to his attorney. We know now that many employees hire attorneys due to lack of communication on the employer’s part. (I have offered advice on how to improve communication about workers’ compensation in previous blogs. To see one of these blogs, click here.)

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What my father did need, however, was an employer who cared about him.
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Back in those days, at least in Cleveland, it was assumed a lawyer was necessary for workers’ comp. If my dad had known he could self-advocate instead, I think he would have done a fine job on his own and saved money in attorneys’ fees. He was always fantastic at advocating for others.

What my father did need, however, was an employer who cared about him. All workers need that. And thankfully, many employers have found that having a culture of caring pays off in many ways. He also needed a return to work opportunity. To use my dad’s words, he needed to work so he could feel like a man.

Years later, dad got cancer and the fateful call to Hospice had been made. I wanted to see him, but I was far along in the pregnancy of my second daughter and was contagious with a sinus infection. There was no easy way to get from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland in the winter so he advised me not to come.

Just one week before my second daughter was born, and four days before dad died, we prayed together and said goodbye. I hung up the phone in tears knowing that someday, when I reach the end of my journey, I will see him again in a better place.

He died just after his 59th birthday.

I don’t think of my dad much when I write about workers’ compensation because his identity to me was being my father, not an injured worker. I think of him, instead, in the totality of the man he was. Seeing what happened to my dad does give me empathy for how workers’ compensation affects everyone associated with work-related incidents. Families, supervisors, co-workers and others are affected as well.

I am grateful that I have seen the workers’  compensation system improve from so many perspectives since dad filed is claim in the late 1980s. I still believe, however, we have a long way to go.  

The Problem of Pain

“Pain,” wrote C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia fame, “is God’s megaphone to the world.”

In our bodies, pain is the brain’s megaphone that something is not right. On an immediate level, acute pain tells us to stop whatever it is we are doing.

How to handle the problem of pain as a society and personally are complex challenges. We know that too many people are depending on opiates and other drugs to relieve pain and some doctors are even making a profit directly selling these drugs without enough third party oversight.

We know there is a risk of addiction, which destroys lives and families. The long-term effects on children with alcohol and drug addictions stay with them throughout their lives.

We know that there are too many people in our country on disability related to pain than our joint resources can afford. We have politicians who win votes by providing entitlement benefits when that is not always the best for the morale of the individual.

I know a few things about pain both individually and professionally. By inheriting the back problems of my parents, I suffer from pain. As a writer who has covered health, workers’ compensation and disability, I also know the public policy and administrative efforts being made to deal with the costs and implications of soft tissue injuries and the pain they cause.

We still have a lot to learn about pain. While the medical community and insurers are gradually becoming more open to alternative ways to deal with pain, we know intuitively that pain is deeply individual and difficult to communicate. There is no one-size-fits all answer to addressing pain.

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To deal with pain without drugs requires high motivation and an acceptance that pain of all kinds is part of life.
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We know that some people can live with more pain than others. For example, living with pain is different for each gender. Recent research contends that women cannot bear pain as well as men and that women are more likely to be seen at pain clinics. We also know that women, in general, see doctors more often. Whether for social or physiological reasons, men tend to avoid doctors more.

As someone who has struggled with pain for years, I also believe there are other factors that affect pain and productivity that employers can do only so much. In medical and workers’ compensation circles, we know that in the Minnesota of Garrison Keillor fame, people are somehow more resilient to the difficulties of life. Coverage costs reflect that reality.

But we do need broad guidelines even though they will never be perfect for each individual situation. Thoughtful determiners of who should be on disability and who should find their way back to work use broad guidelines like the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. As with any broad approach, there will always be some that are not well served. 

But there is so much more to these questions of how to deal with pain and help those who suffer from it.

We know that individual values influence motivation to work. That explains why some of us have a very strong work ethic and would be ashamed not to be productive members of society while others just give up.

Some would say this stems from the Protestant work ethic that prevailed in the nation during its early years and that gradually eroded due to political philosophers like Karl Marx.  But Marx, like the apostle Paul, acknowledged that everyone should be productively contributing to society. Marx’s maxim, “People who do not work should not eat,” pretty well sums it up. (As historian Paul Johnson pointed out, it is ironic that Marx was fed by the wealthy Engels family and never did any work that would have made him a “miserable commodity.”)

The belief that work should be required of all, regardless of its source, was supplanted by the idea that all Americans are entitled to not only a job, but a meaningful one. Perhaps it was the post WW II economic boom where jobs were plentiful and opportunity seemed endless.  Perhaps it was political propaganda that made promises for future generations to keep.

What I have never been able to understand is what entitles us to anything. The framers of our constitution assume that through a creator, we have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. They did not promise anything, but assumed something greater than us allows us to pursue better lives.

Our individual and collective belief systems greatly affect how we deal with the problem of pain and what we expect from others and ourselves, including employers and the government.

The problem is our collective expectations cannot be met due to how we use our resources. This is the heart of the budget discussions in Congress. Fiscal responsibility is impossible with the plethora of high expectations. If we do not lower our expectations, we will continue to burden younger generations. If Americans began as individuals to be realistic about their own expectations, we would be a financially stronger nation.

We do not have a full handle on why pain is worse for some people than others.

But as with any broad attempt to classify individuals, there will always be some who are on disability unnecessarily and others who really cannot manage working a full-time job.

My Pain Story

An MRI from seven years ago revealed many reasons for my back pain, but the pain specialist who gave me lumbar epidurals and steroidal shots could not tell me specifically why I had pain but only that he could treat it.

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If Americans began as individuals to be realistic about their own expectations, we would be a financially stronger nation.
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Being busy with work and raising two small children, one having juvenile diabetes, I focused on getting relief. But I knew intuitively that the long-term answer was finding its cause.

So I spent a couple years getting shots and, for some of that time, getting physical therapy. Knowing the shots could cause long-term damage, I elected to get painful trigger point deep messages. Using breathing techniques I learned from intense weight training, I got through them to the surprise of the therapists who told me I could handle pain better than most people.

Massage worked for a while, unless I did too much housework or gardening at once. So I tried to spread these chores out over time to reduce pain. My doctor made sure I always had muscle relaxants for those times when muscle spasms caused me to stop dead in my tracks.

Recently, I got another MRI and a diagnosis for my pain. It turned out I am so hypermobile that I stretched out my ligaments, leaving me little strength to handle the challenges of a good cardio work out or extended day in the yard.

Since then, I have been getting more shots to reduce inflammation and strengthen the ligaments. My use of Ibyroyn has declined, but the issue is not yet resolved. My doctor now wants me to pursue prolotherapy, which is not covered by my health insurance.

My recent physical revealed that I am in excellent health for my age, save for the back problems. I asked my doc for advice on other roads to pursue that are covered by insurance. I got a second opinion from a surgeon, who told me to start swimming. That takes time and money, which are both limited. Recently, an expert told me to try hot yoga, which I will do. I am also trying to determine how much pilates I can do to strengthen my core without pain.

There are also other options to explore, but I know intuitively I need stronger muscles to stabilize me.

Dealing with pain is an individual journey. To deal with pain without drugs requires high motivation and an acceptance that pain of all kinds is part of life. We have high expectations to be pain free, but the reality is that as we age, our bodies are less resilient to pain.

While public policy makers and doctors continue to address pain, I submit that being as productive as possible despite pain is an individual choice. As a society, we cannot afford for people to give in to pain. The social ethos of our society needs to return to the Protestant work ethic because as a nation, it made us strong. Without this strength and determination, our country will become weaker economically and otherwise.

Surprise! ObamaCare Needs More of the Young and Healthy

Sometimes the news just makes me laugh.

Apparently, the young and healthy are not clamoring for ObamaCare. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported today that only one quarter of 18 to 34 year olds who need to sign up for ObamaCare are actually doing it. (To see the news release, click here.)

This 25 percent only meets 18 percent necessary to make ObamaCare work. Meanwhile, one-third of the 2.2 million who signed up are 55 to 64 years old.

In other words and to no surprise, high risk people who will cost more to cover are signing up faster than the “low risk” younger crowd. The younger generation is also smaller than this age group, which represents part of the heavily populated baby boomer generation.

From the insurance perspective, this is just another “I told you” moment. Convincing the young and healthy to buy health care coverage has always been tough. Meanwhile, the “adverse risk” group continues to grow as the American waistline expands.

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When I look back to my own experience, I know there was no way
I could have afforded the Affordable Care Act when I was 22…
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Insurance experts pointed to past experience and actuarial charts to show the costs of coverage. They knew it would cost Americans more – both collectively and individually – in taxes and fees. So it is no surprise that 79 percent of the nearly 2.2 million who managed to get signed up requested financial assistance, according to the HHS news release.

I think about today’s young adults. Many are burdened with student loans that mirror the cost of a car payment. They are having a hard time finding work, even if they earn advanced degrees. They face the highest taxes in U.S. history and, without a mortgage, lack much relief from tax deductions.

When I look back to my own experience, I know there was no way I could have afforded the Affordable Care Act when I was 22 and fresh out of college. I came from a lower middle working class background. My dad loaded trucks for a living. Mom was a sales clerk at Sears. To get through college, I worked and borrowed. I was the first in my family to earn a college degree.

My first job was with the state of Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which Thank God, provided very affordable health care. It was hard enough for me to pay the pre-25 year-old premium for car insurance or pay taxes without deductions. I was driving a beater (well, actually a cool one –a ’77 Cutlass 442 with a 350-V8 engine, but I am digressing…oh, I still miss that car!)– paying for a modest one-bedroom apartment in German Village alone with my 8 percent interest student loans and the costs of just getting started in life. I didn’t live with my parents and they really did not have money to help. In my day, successful people did not sponge off their parents or the government.

But now I laugh until I cry, realizing that the Obama behind the care never really faced the financial struggles that most of us do. And he will probably never have to get ObamaCare either.