Five years ago, 997-bed Florida State Hospital won an Excellence in Healthcare Risk Management Award for lowering workers' compensation costs by promoting awareness and communication at all levels.
While that program clearly has produced results, reducing costs from $3 million in 1994-1995, the psychiatric hospital was still spending $800,000 a year on workers' compensation in 1996-1997-not to mention the human cost of pain and suffering the staff experienced. More than 40% of work-related injuries reported in the first six months of 1997 resulted from patient assaults on staff.
Hospital management decided to pursue a more aggressive tack to further reduce workers' compensation incidents. With consulting help, the hospital began in early 1997 what executives call a "total quality management" approach. That included using some new statistical tools to determine the gaps between what the hospital was doing and what it wanted to achieve.
The result: an estimated $2.2 million in potential savings annually.
What makes the current risk-management improvements at Florida State, a state-run psychiatric facility in Chattahoochee, even more impressive is that they were achieved without any extra funds or staff, hospital officials say.
"This demonstrates that savings efficiencies can be achieved in state government," says Robert Williams, the hospital's administrator. "For many years, the public sector has said, `We do good work, but we can't measure what we do.' But you can measure, and once you do, you can improve it."
For example, analysis of patient assaults on staff revealed that the assaults occurred mostly because an employee had not been recently trained in control techniques. Risk Manager Richard Wilhelms, who also championed the program, developed a system to ensure that all employees were trained and re-trained regularly.
"The tools we use are fairly standard, but we're just beginning to learn new methods and more detailed analysis to hone in on root causes and identify ways to counter them," Wilhelms says. "This is something you can use in any business."
Williams says the return on Florida State's risk-management investment is $80 for every $1 spent.
"It's paid off in spades, but it always needs to be improved," Williams says. "This is a journey, not a destination."