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Transitioning Back to Work
Hopkins Hospital has found a way to keep employees on the job even after injuries.

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Daniel Washington
Daniel Washington at his transitional job. "The job pool really helped me economically."

Last July 18, Daniel Washington went to Marburg to help transfer a patient to the outpatient clinic. In moving the patient from the hospital bed to a gurney, Washington, an OR associate in the Department of Surgery, and several nurses were supposed to lift simultaneously on the count of three. But on three, "the nurses didn't lift the patient when I lifted," Washington recalls with a rueful chuckle. He tore two tendons in his right shoulder.

Washington, 43, might still be sidelined—and receiving only 66 percent of his salary as workers' compensation payments—were it not for Hopkins Hospital's transitional duty pool, which finds positions for employees recovering from work-related injuries. It placed him in a clerical job in Admitting—on full salary, half of it paid by his home department and half by workers' comp.

Offering transitional duty to injured employees not only keeps them productive but helps maintain their morale and self-esteem, says Pamela Paulk, vice president of human resources for Hopkins Hospital. The pool also cuts workers' compensation expenses—while providing no-cost, eager employees to the departments that find work for them.

"It's a win-win for everybody," says Edward Bernacki, director of the Division of Occupational Medicine and chair of the hospital's Joint Committee on Health, Safety and Environment. "The basic idea is to find jobs within the hospital for our talented people to do, given their [injury-related] limitations, and keep them productive. It's a sin to waste the working life of an employee."

Bernacki estimates that Hopkins Hospital employees sustain about 2,800 injuries a year, most of them minor (only 3.5 percent of employees lose time from work). "Slips, trips, stumbles or falls" is the traditional litany of mishaps that workers' compensation caseworkers see when reviewing reports of on-the-job injuries. Since the transitional duty pool began a year ago, 68 hospital employees have been referred for temporary, alternative jobs while they recuperated.

Johns Hopkins Bayview has had a similar transitional duty pool since the early 1990s. Enabling employees to return to work in some capacity is a form of physical therapy, says Brenda Boggs, head of the Bayview program. "They recover more quickly than if they were at home."

Kim Shaffer, a registered nurse who has been at Hopkins for 31 years, serves as one of the hospital's transitional duty pool's disability case managers, along with David Feick, an occupational therapist. After employees are referred to them, they explore job opportunities within some 15 departments that have expressed a willingness to find places for injured workers.

"Employees are so grateful to have someone who cares about the fact that they were injured," Shaffer says. "It's a very difficult situation to be in, especially for people who have been here a long time and suddenly can't do their job and they're facing potential financial strain."

"The system worked excellently for me," says Washington, who has now resumed his usual job with no restrictions. "The job pool really helped me economically."

There were unexpected benefits as well. "It gave me an opportunity to experience another aspect of the Hopkins operation," says Washington. "I would recommend that other employees take advantage of the educational training courses Hopkins offers—like typing and keyboarding—so it will be easier for them to be placed in other departments in case something like this happens to them."

—Neil A. Grauer

 

 

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