WorkPartners Spotlight – Bonnie Stephens

Every month WorkPartners turn the spotlight on individuals making an impact and exemplifying excellence in the field of workers’ compensation.

This month we sit down with Bonnie Stephens, Medcor Corporate Case Manager for the San Diego Zoo/Zoo Safari Park.

Hi Bonnie. For over two decades you have managed workers’ compensation claims for one of the most iconic attractions in the country – the San Diego Zoo/Zoo Safari Park, which saw record attendance last year of over 4 million visitors. What is it like managing claims and working directly with a popular tourist destination like the zoo?

Working with the Zoo/Zoo Safari Park is like being in the middle of a city with animals. Lol! The Zoo is interesting in that it has many departments ranging from Reptiles to Construction and Maintenance. Each facility has rugged terrane and most of the jobs are quite physical as a result. Most of the injuries are from strains and sprains. Every scary once in a great while there may be an animal bite. The Zoo has expert Animal Handling so fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. I would say material handling and using PPE are the biggest safety exposure areas and that probably is like most employers. The other thing that may make the Zoo unique is that employees are committed to the Zoo’s Conservation, research and educational efforts. I think it allows it’s employees to truly enjoy their jobs and their culture. It’s not uncommon for employees to stay the course for 30-40 years.

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What is one of the most impactful decisions in controlling costs a company can make and why?

Effectively managing workers’ compensation claims and costs cannot be compartmentalized or on a one-dimensional direction and course. There are multiple courses and layers involved in determining the path to controlling the costs. Careful navigation is essential through entities, processes, governing bodies, policies and with the focus of the claim being the injured worker. Back in the 80’s the Safety Manager or the Personnel department was responsible for workers’ compensation. Then in the 90’s some organizations chose to put it in the efficient hands of the finance offices due to rising costs. By the late 90’s into the 21st century, Risk Managers came full on the scene aiding with workers’ compensation and the legislative unknowns.

Medcor was early to recognize that impacting workers’ compensation had to be more than what was currently being done. I joined Medcor’s team 21 years ago. One reason why I jumped on board was because they shared the same vision and philosophy that I did concerning workers’ compensation. It cannot be managed in a single department with a single view. It involves teams of players each of whom have the same focus with a different needed perspective; all the while balancing excellent care, quality service and highly effective outcomes for the injured worker. When this goal is shared amongst a committed team of players and backed by the employer, then cost becomes a subset with the result being costs well managed and controlled. Medcor was contracted by the Zoo/Zoo Safari Park back in the 80’s. The team consisted of two onsite medics provided by Medcor, a Case Manager (me) as well as Medfiles software system that works in turn with the Zoo’s HR Department, Risk Management Department, Legal team, broker and the TPA. This group uses Medcor’s philosophy as a guide to coordinate the Zoo’s policies and practices and the entire team works to achieve the goal. It sounds so simple, but amazingly companies continue the trends of past decades and are reluctant to jump in.

Medcor takes the guessing out the injury by providing prompt assessment, and first aid or the need for immediate outside treatment referral. Care is managed and navigated via my role along with a careful partnership with the medical provider community. The rest of the team works carefully to achieve the desired outcome; a happy well cared for employee who receives benefits, excellent expedient health care and meaningful return to work duty. Workers’ compensation in most states is a complicated process that, left un-navigated, is a contributor to waste, litigation and ultimately cost. Expert navigation is what I provide at Medcor, and I feel that is the most impactful decision in controlling costs.

What is the most common misconception regarding workers’ compensation?

Well it depends on whose view it is. If it’s from the employers’ view, it is regarded as a necessary evil: insurance that must be paid and that no one can do anything about. If it’s from the employee view, they can feel like it’s a plan they must use and that the “company doctors” are bad and going to provide sub-par treatment.

What is one thing about you few people know?

If you call into our corporate office, I am the voice on the phone directory. LOL!

What does the future of workers’ compensation look like in California?

That is the ever-changing $1,000 question. The answer is that it depends on a lot of things. The political climate. The state’s solvency, the number of businesses going into and out of California. The new related employment regulations and other legislation that will impact workers and therefore claims. I think California generally has made some strides over the years to grab control of an ailing system. I think some revisions to the code may be made regarding compensation as new laws go into effect regarding wages. I believe the physician and medical market continues to shrink and there will be fewer providers who get into the care and treatment of workers’ compensation. That said, those who do will be looking to be “better” than others who remain in the market. It could be good for groups such as WorkPartners. 😊

How do I keep a healthy work-life balance?

Funny you ask. At work, we have four principles that guide us as Medcor Advocates. They are worth stating: eat real food, sleep, move your body, and mind your happiness. They involve taking care of yourself because if you don’t take care of yourself, you aren’t worth much to others in what you do. So, eating well—fresh food. We have fresh “Tasty” Tuesdays at work. Getting rest (this is a challenge with a senior dog!) and exercise, also a challenge, but worth it when I do it. Lastly, I try to be happy. I really enjoy what I do. It’s a great reward knowing you helped someone along a crazy path to regaining control of their physical or mental health. A very favorite saying of mine is from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is how I mind my happiness. I hope I make people feel well cared for.

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