UnumProvident Study Shows Healthcare Workers Experience Higher Rates of Disability

Lost time from injuries and illnesses significantly higher than other industries.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.– A report released by UnumProvident (NYSE:UNM) shows workers in the healthcare industry are disproportionately affected by injury and illness when compared to workers in non-healthcare related industries. 

Among the study findings, hospital employees incur non-work-related injuries at a rate 17 percent higher and stay out on short-term disability 10 percent longer than the average for all other non-healthcare employees. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the incidence of work-related illnesses and injuries resulting in lost time is 44 percent higher in the healthcare industry than for non-healthcare employers.

The study titled Outcomes & Impacts: Diagnosing and Treating Lost Time in the Healthcare Industry is based upon 2001-2003 claims data from UnumProvident’s disability database – the largest private database of its kind in this country. It tracks 26.8 million covered employees and an estimated 178,000 employer policyholders. The healthcare industry data alone covers an estimated 700 healthcare organizations representing more than 1 million insured employees.

“Unmanaged lost time can erode the ability of a healthcare facility to care for its patients effectively and at a reasonable cost,” says Kenneth Mitchell, Ph.D., vice president of corporate return-to-work development for UnumProvident. “This research helps employers understand absence trends and risk factors in the healthcare industry, and to pinpoint how these trends can be reversed and lost time can be managed.”

According to the study, the most common source of lost work days in the healthcare industry is musculoskeletal injuries, which account for about one-third of all disability claims.

Not only do healthcare workers stay out on disability for longer periods of time, but they also file a disproportionate number of workers’ compensation claims, meaning their on-the-job injuries are also higher than average.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses and orderlies filed 6.2 percent of all workers’ compensation claims in 2001, yet they comprise just over 3 percent of the workforce. That’s more common than carpenters and machine operators combined. Only truck drivers filed more workers’ compensation claims.


The Impact of Lost Time

For a hospital or network of hospitals with 5,000 or more employees, the impact of short-term disability equates to approximately 17,000 lost work days annually, which translates to an estimated 65 full-time nurses absent from work every day for a full year.

“We know that nurse shortages continue to plague the healthcare industry as registered nurses are expected to account for the largest number of job openings annually over the next decade,” says Mitchell. “Couple that trend with disability related absence trends that are higher than average in healthcare workers. Understaffing can lead to lost efficiency, reduced occupancy rates, lost revenue and an eroding reputation.”


A Successful Case Study

Maine Medical Center, based in Portland, Maine, partnered with UnumProvident’s return-to-work program to address lost-time challenges within their hospital. Administrators faced a number of absentee challenges including higher than expected on-the-job injuries and subsequent higher than normal workers’ compensation claims, an unmonitored sick-leave program, and no incentives for employees to return back to work. 

Over a period of two years, Maine Medical Center worked with UnumProvident to develop and implement a number of solutions, including the replacement of the hospital’s unmonitored sick leave program with an employer-paid short-term disability plan; the implementation of an injury prevention and disability loss-control plan that includes a consistent injury management philosophy, a focus on musculoskeletal disabilities, enhanced communication and a renewed focus on managing and tracking absences; and the introduction of a formal transitional return-to-work program with regular return-to-work planning meetings. 

“Within the first three months we began to see decreases in our workers’ compensation claims,” says Allison Keppel, director of integrated disability and risk management for Maine Medical Center. “We achieved measurable results in managing employee absence and the results continue to accumulate.”


At the end of two years, Maine Medical Center has achieved:

 “More importantly, what we saw is a shift in attitudes,” says Ms. Keppel. “We have workers who want to work, and who want to get back to work as soon as possible. Their enthusiasm is immeasurable, and everyone reaps the benefits from that, especially our patients.”

To access a pdf file of Outcomes & Impacts: Diagnosing and Treating Lost Time in the Healthcare Industry, click here.


About UnumProvident

UnumProvident (UNM) is the largest provider of group and individual disability income protection insurance in North America. Through its subsidiaries, UnumProvident Corporation insures more than 25 million people and paid $5.7 billion in total benefits to customers in 2003. With primary offices in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Portland, Maine, the company employs nearly 13,000 people worldwide. For more information, visit www.unumprovident.com.

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