One of the best risk management tools a provider can use is an expression of compassion and a genuine commitment to remedying problems. Saying “I’m sorry,” in fact, is statutorily protected and not an admission of liability, thanks to “I’m Sorry” laws adopted in 36 states.
“I’m Sorry” laws began as a movement in the medical industry after providers realized that being honest with patients and apologizing for mistakes when warranted is not only the right thing to do, but also financially sound.
One provider of continuing care retirement communities, American Baptist Homes of the West (ABHOW), embraces such compassion through its corporate compliance program. The organization has established a cultural platform of compassion and care across all of its departments, with qualities formulated into its training programs, manuals, and guides.

The Most Valued Assets

The entire organization, including all executives and staff members, is clear about the risk management mission: to provide the safest environments and practices for its residents and employees and maintain the highest quality of care and services.

A prudent business model analyzes claims in search of root causes and future prevention. Taking it a step further, the organization looks closely at the behavior surrounding each claim and its relationship with the patient and employee.

“I look at a resident who is 85 years old, and I try to picture them 40 years ago, raising a family and working at their career, rather than as an old and frail person,” says David Grant, ABHOW senior vice president and general counsel.

“When you see people’s true nature, it is easy to show compassion and go out of your way to give comfort, sympathy, concern, and care.”

Using analytics, such as claims reports that are shared with the communities, helps management understand the impact a claim may have on the organization’s bottom line.

Analytics identify how management can intercede early on with an injured employee, helping him or her  return to work promptly and mitigating the need for an attorney’s involvement.

Ergonomic training for employees is also vital, “so they know how to handle slips, trips, and falls,” says Grant. “Training is conducted on a regular basis as well as pilot programs like safety shoes for the health centers.”

Apologies Go To Staff As Well

After years of sending “get well” cards to employees who are on leaves of absence, the organization reasoned that it should do the same for employees on workers’ compensation leaves. It introduced a program where every injured employee receives an “I am sorry you were injured” card.

This simple yet effective gesture of care resulted in a significant reduction of workers’ compensation program costs, which was close to 8 percent of payroll costs at one point.

Additionally, management regularly tracks all complaints, incidents, and occurrences to note patterns or trends that need a particular risk management focus.

When an unfortunate event occurs with a resident, meetings are conducted throughout the organization in order to address the resident’s injury and provide the best resolution to the family member’s predicament. The resident and family must feel compassion from the organization and all of its members.

“Expressing compassion and acknowledging and investigating any ‘adverse events’ increase resident satisfaction and trust, which helps us maintain a positive resident relationship,” says Grant. “If a mistake is found, we are honest with the patient and openly acknowledge mistakes so safer procedures and systems can be created.”

Take Proactive Responsibility

The value of such sincerity is illustrated by an incident that occurred at one of the organization’s retirement communities, which is situated on a large campus where staff members use golf carts to move residents around.

The incident involved a resident who was injured when a golf cart became stuck in the mud. The resident received an official apology for the accident, and his medical expenses and physical therapy were covered at the request of the family.

“It was the right thing to do,” says Grant. “If we lacked genuine care for our resident, we could have run the risk of a case filed against us, which might have cost upwards of $200,000 before even going to trial.

“This particular incident cost approximately $12,000. We can’t solve all the problems; however, our caring approach has warded off unnecessary litigation and has proven to benefit everyone involved.”

An Environment Of Caring

Regular visits by management to the company’s various retirement communities are not limited to surveying employee safety, but resident care as well. The executive team frequently participates in resident reviews, holds town hall meetings, and dines in the cafeteria with residents.

This level of attention allows executives to draw a holistic picture of the resident—physically, emotionally, and socially. It also enhances trust between residents and management, which, as a byproduct, shelters the organization from litigation and other negative external forces.

Genuine compassion extends beyond the organization’s internal and external customers. Charitable activities, which topped $17 million last year, are rampant, as posted in the organization’s “Social Accountability Program Report.”

Many studies have shown that employees feel good working for a company that gives back to the community in pure charity and good works. And happy employees create happy residents. Moreover, engaged employees create a better environment for residents. For this reason, the importance of communicating its charitable activities cannot be underscored enough.

Whether it is treating an injured employee fairly or empowering employees with information and access to tools to better manage the care of their customers, taking a caring approach can have a dramatic effect on an organization’s bottom line.

Click here for more information about Apology Laws and their application to long term care providers.
David A. Jones is senior vice president at Lockton Companies, the world’s largest, privately owned independent insurance broker. Jones served as a risk and finance manager for various Fortune 500 companies before joining Lockton and holds an MBA and the designations of Associate in Risk Management and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter.