“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” — Duke Ellington
Whether you state it eloquently or simply, BWC was not in a good place in 2007. The reputation and hard work built by thousands of honest, hard-working employees over numerous years was undone overnight by a handful of bad actors. The business community and injured workers alike had ample opportunity to question the financial health and direction of BWC.
Today BWC is a much different place. Rates have been lowered repeatedly. The private sector base rates in fact are more than 20% lower than even five years ago. The public sector base rates are the lowest in more than 30 years. Businesses have benefited from $2 billion in rebates and another $1.2 billion in credits to help move to a modernized billing system. Injured workers are benefiting from a pharmacy management system that is better coordinating care and reducing the chance of addiction or overdose of narcotics. They are benefitting from pilot programs that are better coordinating care, including by addressing aggravating conditions.
All Ohio workers are benefitting from safer workplaces. BWC has tripled its safety grant program to $15 million annually, and is investing millions to better train firefighters and fund university research on a myriad of safety topics.
And it is doing these things with a great majority of the same people who were here in 2007.
So what’s the difference? One big part of this turnaround is the creation of—and the direction provided by—the BWC Board of Directors.
Since first meeting in August 2007, the Board has, first and foremost, established itself as a strong, professional board, with the personnel and governance measures necessary to provide direction rooted in real-world expertise. To its original Audit, Investment, and Actuarial committees—each requiring a board member with expertise in that area—the Board quickly added a Governance Committee in addition to a Medical Services and Safety Committee. Each month, the Board of Directors meets to conduct its business. Particularly telling of the professionalism of its members though, attendance at ALL the committee meetings, held the day before the Board meeting, is almost always close to 100 percent. Despite there being no requirement to attend any more than your assigned committee, the board members typically choose to do so. This helps ensure that the work of those committees benefits from the input of the various directors, who each represent a particular interest or area of expertise, ranging from small business to injured workers to investments.
Having just marked its 100th meeting, we sat down with two directors who have been there from the start. David Caldwell, currently legislative coordinator and assistant director of United Steelworkers State of Ohio District 1, and a career member of the United Steelworkers of America, represents the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO. Kenneth Haffey, chair of the Audit committee, is a partner in the CPA firm of Skoda, Minotti and Co. in Mayfield Village.
BWCBlog: What were your initial impressions walking into the first board meeting?
KH: What am I doing here? How is this group ever going to get along?
DC: Apprehension was quickly replaced with a realization of the enormity of the tasks that lay ahead. The size of the spectator crowd, at that time, overflowed into additional meeting rooms on the second floor.
BWCBlog: What did you see as your biggest challenge in the early days of the board?
DC: Getting back, or maybe establishing for the first time, the trust of our stakeholders and the public at large.
KH: Learning about the operations of BWC. I was comfortable with my role as the Audit committee chair, I just didn’t realize what else I’d be involved in.
BWCBlog: How would you describe your stakeholders’ view of the board back then?
KH: Skeptical. The BWC was just coming out of a lot “bad stuff.”
DC: Distrust on a massive scale, far worse than I was ever aware of at that time.
BWCBlog: How do you think this board compares to other boards?
DC: It is my belief that each member of the Ohio BWC Board, from the beginning, has been the “gold standard” for any board of directors public or private.
KH: Comparable to corporate boards I work with and have been on over the years, except that our members attend all the committee meetings, which doesn’t happen in the private sector.
BWCBlog: How would you describe your stakeholders view of BWC now?
KH: I think they see us as a viable governing body that has made and continues to make a difference to injured workers, business owners and BWC employees.
DC: Much improved. I suspect there is always some skepticism, but from what I hear the opinion of BWC is better than the “government” as a whole.
BWCBlog: What are you personally most proud of over the past 8 years?
DC: I’m most proud of feeling I was, in at least some small way a part of re-establishing public confidence on Ohio BWC.
KH: Being recognized as a board who put politics and personal agendas aside and made the right decisions for the right reasons all along.
BWCBlog: If you had one piece of advice for other workers’ compensation boards, what would it be?
KH: Do not lose sight that you have a “duty-of-care” for the injured workers and business owners alike.
DC: Stay the course, with a constant eye toward improving. Our challenges are always changing.