What is the background of this project?

    Beginning in January 2014, all L&I claims units began making AWA referrals earlier in the claim. This change produced significant increases in RTW, increases in Able to Work Job of Injury, and decreases in Able to Work due to Transferable Skills outcomes.

    L&I's successful experience with earlier AWA referrals got the attention of consultants performing an audit of the workers' compensation system for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review committee (JLARC). The 2016 audit report from JLARC recommended that L&I improve its efforts to help workers return to work promptly and safely by operationalizing this pilot approach and implementing supporting programs, processes, and technology.

    The next steps? Changing vocational services so that the right interventions are provided at the right time. With the support and partnership of VRCs, we can do a lot more to avoid unnecessary work disability. What that “more” will look like is the work of the Vocational Recovery Project (VRP).

    What is work disability?

    Work disability occurs "when a worker is unable to stay at work or return to work because of an injury or disease. Work disability is the result of a decision by a worker who for potential physical, psychological, social, administrative, or cultural reasons does not return to work. While the worker may want to return to work, he or she feels incapable of returning to normal working life. Therefore, after the triggering accident or disease has activated a work absence, various determinants can influence some workers to remain temporarily out of the workplace, while others return, and others may finally not return to work at all."
    The Handbook of Work Disability Prevention and Management,
    Loisel and Anema, 2013

    How were the focuses determined for the work groups?

    The VRP grew out of the merger of two previous projects: Enhanced Vocational Services, and Reimagine Vocational Audit. (Private-sector vocational providers participated on both projects.) Those groups identified a series of issues related to the effectiveness of our system. Those issues are now the focus of VRP work groups (also called workstreams), or will be a focus in the future.

    How will decisions be made about changes to L&I's vocational services?

    L&I is strongly committed to reaching consensus through professional and thoughtful discussion. Conversations will take place within VRP work groups and the groups' recommendations will be discussed by the project's VRC advisors. Ultimately, the department is responsible for making final decisions.

    When a need arises for input from business and labor, the project's executive sponsors will consult with the Vocational Subcommittee of the Workers' Compensation Advisory Committee.

    How long will the project last?

    Some improvements to our vocational system can be developed and implemented quickly, while others may take months or even years.

    How will this project affect vocational providers?

    Any significant changes to L&I processes will be tested and implemented gradually. Vocational providers will need to increase their engagement with their clients and learn to identify and address workers’ barriers to return to work. Vocational providers who embrace the new skills will thrive.

    Will the project require changes to administrative rules?

    Changes that emerge from VRP will likely require revisions to Washington Administrative Code. If so, L&I will follow its formal rulemaking process, which involves public communication and opportunities for public and written comment.

    How is L&I working with the vocational community to prepare for change?
    • External vocational providers on the advisory group and workstreams are helping shape changes to the system. Participating VRCs are encouraged to talk to the vocational community about the project.
    • VRP executive sponsors Ryan Guppy and Vickie Kennedy are meeting with firm owners across the state to talk about recent successes and the changes that may come out of the VRP. This was the first project for which the time of L&I’s assistant director has been devoted to direct outreach - a sign of the importance of this partnership.
    • One of the VRP project workstreams is identifying best practices in vocational services; another workstream is creating online training that will support vocational providers in mastering the best practices.
    • L&I provides training at conferences and devotes conference time to project updates.
    • L&I staff participate in conferences sponsored by industry organizations such as the Washington Chapter of the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (WA IARP) where they provide updates to the project and discuss any concerns.
    • When rolling out new best practices or new processes, L&I will increase external communications.
    How were individuals chosen to be one of the VRC advisors or to participate on the work teams?

    Some of the advisors participated previously on the Enhanced Vocational Services project and Reimagine Vocational Audit project. Other advisors were recommended by board members of WA IARP or by WA IARP Management Group (IMG).

    When will vocational providers need to make changes?

    Change is already happening! For some time now, L&I has been encouraging vocational providers to engage more with their clients and to identify and address the barriers to return to work. Many aspects of the project will support this approach.

    How can I comment on the project?

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