In this episode, we’re talking with Jim Owen, President and CEO of MEM, and Michelle Karhoff, Safety Manager at Finck Supported Living Services. Finck is an MEM policyholder and recently received a safety grant. Today, Michelle will share how the company went from being nearly un-insurable to achieving success in the challenging space of home care safety.
Listen to this interview on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Michelle, tell us a little about Finck.
Finck Supported Living Services provides 24-hour in-home care to people with developmental disabilities. We have about 185 employees. Our staff work in the homes of our clients 24 hours a day, assisting with their daily needs, like hygiene, getting into day programs, or getting them to jobs. The ultimate goal is to develop them to be able to integrate into the community.
It can be a very tough job, but it’s also very rewarding. We have a lot of success stories within our agency that really make me smile.
Tell us about one of those success stories.
We have a gentleman who, before he came to Finck, was struggling. He wasn’t meeting his goals that had been set by his case manager. He came to Finck in 2008, and he was placed in an individualized supported living (ISL) – a home that has anywhere from one to four people living together as a family – and by 2012, he was living in his own assisted apartment. So in those few short years, he went from needing to live in an ISL to integrating into the community and living in his own apartment.
And for some people that might not seem like a big deal. But for someone like him, and you, it is.
It’s one of our best success stories.
Many of MEM’s policyholders are small, family-owned businesses like Finck. Most small companies don’t have much interaction with their insurance provider. With most providers, a request for a meeting with the CEO would be both unexpected and unrealistic. But when business owner Jonathan Finck asked to meet with Jim Owen, the CEO of MEM, he immediately said yes.
What sparked the meeting? Mr. Finck wanted to express his gratitude for the part MEM played in turning his company around to re-focus on safety.
Jim, you found out that Mr. Finck, the president of the company, had requested a meeting with you. How did you feel going into that meeting?
Honored, because when you sit in an office all day, you don’t really get feedback on specific policyholders. We have more than 17,000 policyholders, so we’re very happy when we get to hear direct feedback on the impact we’ve made on a specific organization.
That feedback can be really valuable. How’d the meeting go?
I didn’t know a lot about the story going into the meeting. You know, it could’ve been a negative story, it could’ve been a positive story, and it turned out to be a great success story. Mr. Finck immediately shared the success that they’d had coming on board with MEM. We talked about how they were previously in “the pool,” which is a term used for the involuntary market – people who can’t find affordable insurance. It’s only about three percent of the market, and they’d been in it. For some reason, they couldn’t get a policy with MEM or another carrier, so they got assigned an involuntary policy. That means they had to pay very high rates, and the service level is usually low. It’s not a good place to be. They were unhappy there.
Finally, they were able to get a policy with us, and they shared this success story. Their premiums were cut in half, or more, I think. Part of that is due to what we call the e-mod. If you have a 1.0 e-mod in Missouri, you’re about average. Finck had been well above that 1.0, and now they’re below it.
The difference was threefold: You have to have a good agent, a good insurance company, and good staff. It’s a three-legged stool. If any of those doesn’t work, it’s going to fall over. They had all three, and all three are working now, very, very well. The difference with MEM is that we’ll provide that service level regardless of premium size. We’re not a nonprofit, but if we make a profit we give it right back to the policyholder. A true mutual. That was the case with Finck.
Finck worked with MEM’s Safety and Risk Services and Claims teams to re-focus on safety and were able to drastically reduce their premium amount.
Michelle, it sounds like you’ve had success in implementing some of these changes. What are the challenges you’ve faced?
One of the biggest challenges for our direct care staff, the people who are helping our clients daily, is a home care safety element. The unknown is there every day – maybe there’s a client behavior that arises unexpectedly. We have to train our staff to handle those situations.
What are some challenges for you, as safety manager?
My job personally? Getting our employees to understand that safety is very important, and that safety rules are put in place to protect them as well as the organization. Previously, when we were in the pool, safety wasn’t always at the forefront of our employees’ minds. It’s been difficult to get people on board, but my predecessor Rachel did a great job doing that when we started turning the company around, and I’m now keeping that momentum going.
And what have you done with employees to get them to follow safety policies better?
We’ve been very aggressive about putting the policies in place, and sticking to them without wavering. For some employees, that’s what it’s taken.
When you train new employees, are they on board with the safety policies you have?
We have a high turnover rate, so at this point, yes – new employees are on board, because it’s given to them from day one. “This is the way it is, this is how it’s done, and this is how we will handle any kind of injury.” Whereas when we were initially switching over to the new policies, there was some pushback. But everyone did end up following the policies we put in place, because we made it non-negotiable.
What does that safety training entail for new employees?
Once they’re hired, we have a standard orientation that goes over the handbook and home care safety procedures. We also provide CPR, first aid and CPI, which stands for Crisis Prevention Institute. That teaches employees how to avoid getting hurt if there is a client behavior that erupts, and how to keep themselves and the customer safe. On top of that, we provide RN delegations for equipment like the Hoyer lift, the gait belt, and transporting clients. There’s a lot of training that goes into all of our employees.
It’s interesting that you say that about some employees not understanding the importance of safety. Why do you think some companies don’t prioritize safety like they should?
People don’t like it because it requires hard work. But when they follow through and do it, they see – like they did at Finck – that it increases that caring aspect. It shows that the employer cares for them. Yeah, it’s hard work when there are policies and procedures to follow. Once they start following them, they see that it keeps people safer, saves money for the company, increases productivity, and improves their home lives because they are going home safe and sound at the end of the day.
Saving lives and money at work is one of the primary reasons MEM created SafetySMARTS, a comprehensive portfolio of initiatives that reduce both injuries and costs. Many businesses – especially those without claims – have a perception that insurance is cutting a check for premium and never seeing a return. MEM is changing that perception by continuing to invest in injury prevention with our policyholders through an innovative cost-sharing program called SafetySMARTS Safety Grants.
Michelle, you just recently learned that Finck was selected to receive a safety grant from MEM to help with the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van. I know you work with Dale Muenks from our Safety and Risk Services department. Can you tell us a little bit about that process?
Dale visited and told me about the safety grant, that we could go online and fill it out. And I thought, “Hmm, I wonder what we would need.” We have Hoyer lifts and gait belts and some more expensive pieces of equipment, but we were really in need of wheelchair-accessible vans. A lot of our vans are approaching the age that they need to be retired, and they’re very expensive to replace. I asked him if we could apply for a grant for one of the vans. He said that if we needed it for safety purposes, absolutely. Well, we had three clients that are very cumbersome to transport because we don’t have an adequate van, and it is very hard on our staff to lift them from their wheelchairs and put them into a vehicle. So we took video of our staff trying to transport them. Our agency nurse helped me with some of the medical aspects of the application and we submitted it. It was just last Wednesday I got the email that we were granted funds to match to go toward the wheelchair-accessible van.
Jim, what are some other things that policyholders should know, or can do, to help get the most from their insurance providers to improve safety and reduce injuries?
We have to get data back from them on all of their injuries. We take that data, look at the causation and figure out how to mitigate it. It’s crucial that we get information back from our policyholders in on a regular basis and that they really keep track of the type of injury and the cause. The world of data has changed dramatically. We can really communicate back and forth about what caused the injury the first time, and prevent it the second time. And that communication is not that hard anymore. You can do it on your phone.
The key is having somebody at the office who’s committed to it. Michelle wasn’t always a risk manager. Maybe she wasn’t always safety minded. It’s possible for anyone to learn the proper techniques to become a safety manager or consultant in their office. Michelle and Finck as a whole have done a wonderful job just listening to what our safety professionals recommend. You know, it doesn’t matter – we could say it to 15 organizations and only five will come away with improvements. And only one will be excellent like Finck has been.
We’ve talked on the podcast before about making safety personal. And Jim, I’m told you recently had an experience with your mom that got you thinking about this again. Can you share that?
Well, we were traveling out to Phoenix to see my sister, because my dad had just passed away and my mom was having a tough time. While we were traveling, she asked me if I still loved my “new” job – you know how moms are; I’ve been here six years. And I told her that yes, I do love my job. She knew I’d struggled, having always wanted to work in a social service, and she asked why I love it.
Well, she’d just gotten a call while we were sitting in the airport that her maid of honor had passed away as well. We talked about other family members dying and I told her, that’s why. Saving lives is personal. Every time an employee of a policyholder is killed, we drop our flag to half-mast at MEM. Anybody driving into our offices can see that we lost another worker, and it personalizes it.
It’s special to be at an organization that cares that much about bringing people home safe and sound to their families. At MEM, we do something about it. Everyone who’s hired at MEM really feels like they’re doing something about it every day, instead of just working a job. There are jobs, like Michelle’s, where you’re really doing something about it. You’re actively making changes that keep people safe. When I told my mom that, she said she was proud of me for being able to do a job like that.
To me, though, she wasn’t just saying she was proud of me. I feel like we are a family at MEM. It’s just like with my mom: if you lose somebody, you take it pretty seriously. That’s what we instill in everybody at MEM. You can’t just come to work and feel like you’re doing a job. You have to come to work and feel like you’re going to save a life or prevent an injury.
What’s cool now is that MEM has reached a position of financial strength to be able to start finding new technologies and being even more proactive. We have to help all of our policyholders do what Finck is doing to reduce their injuries. That’s our real goal. We don’t want to manage injuries; we want to prevent them from happening in the first place. We’re now putting in new technologies that can prevent them from happening.