Leonardo’s Story: Oregon Program Funds Injured Employee’s Return to Work

Posted Date: Current
    

Industry InformationOur System at Work

Leonardo Alvarez has worked for many years at Timber Products Company in Medford, Oregon. Leonardo's job as a hardwood veneer grader requires him to sort 1,800 to 2,000 sheets of veneer a day for the panels that Timber Products produces.

A POWERFUL PROGRAM ENABLES EMPLOYEES

Oregon Workers' Compensation Division administers Oregon's Preferred Worker Program (PWP). It helps employers bring injured workers back to the job safely and quickly.

The program elements include wage subsidy, equipment purchases, claim cost reimbursement for subsequent injuries, and premium exemption.

The program benefits are paid from the Oregon Worker Benefit Fund, funded by employers and workers through a cents-per-hour assessment.

Additional return-to-work programs offered through the Oregon Department of Workers Compensation include the Employer-at-Injury Program (EAIP) and Vocational assistance. Visit wcd.oregon.gov/worker/Pages/returnto-work.aspx for further details.

Over time, through constantly moving his upper extremities to different heights, Leonardo began to experience severe pain from the repetitive motion.

Leonardo was concerned that he might not ever be able to return to his longtime position as the movements needed to perform his duties were causing him enough pain that he could no longer perform his job. Timber Products actually looked at other jobs around the plant for Leonardo to move to. Unfortunately, there were no good matches for his skills. Timber Products found itself in a bind. It didn't want to lose its valued, longtime employee, but the equipment he needed to continue working was expensive.

The State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF), Oregon's not for-profit, state-chartered workers compensation insurance company, is Timber Products' carrier. SAIF helps nearly 80% of injured workers with disabling claims return to work within 60 days. So the focus became getting Leonardo back to his regular job where he excelled.

WORKERS COMPENSATION ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS:

  • Employer collaborated with insurer and PWP to find a solution so employee could return to work safely
  • Fast response from the employer's carrier, SAIF—and from the program recommended by SAIF (i.e., PWP)—ensured that there were options to explore rather than terminating a valued, longtime employee
  • Financial assistance from the PWP—in combination with money from the employer—enabled the purchase of equipment that would allow an injured employee to retain his job
  • Employee had strong desire to keep working with the modifications to his workstation in place

SAIF connected Timber Products to Oregon's Preferred Worker Program (PWP). This Oregon program encourages the reemployment of qualified Oregon workers who have permanent disabilities resulting from on-the-job injuries and who are unable to return to their regular work because of those injuries.

Employers can access up to $25,000 for employment-related purchases—including tools, equipment, furniture, and clothes—either for modified work or to update the employee's regular workstation.

Leonardo's workspace required the installation of a costly hydraulic device that elevates the sheets of veneer. Between money from PWP and Timber Products' own money, they were able to purchase the needed equipment, which enabled Leonardo to return to work in a permanently modified position.

“It's very heartwarming to have a success like this,” stated Jackie Maltzan, senior lead adjuster at SAIF. “The worker gets to stay with their employer and finish out their working life, and Timber Products gets to keep a valued employee.”

“I want to thank SAIF for paying all of my medical bills and for getting the needed equipment that allowed me to return to my job,” said Leonardo.

Eric Cullen, hardwood veneer superintendent at Timber Products, summed it up nicely: “It feels pretty good to be able to put somebody back to work and allow them to retire on their own terms.”