DHS leads state agencies in workers compensation court settlement costs
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER & CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 6:13 AM
Read past stories and view data and documents related to workers compensation issues.
Two state agencies are among the 10 biggest spenders - public and private - in the state when it comes to the cost of workers compensation court settlements, a Tulsa World analysis shows.
The Department of Human Services and Department of Corrections each piled up more than $10 million in court settlements paid to injured workers from 2007 through 2011, the World's analysis found.
Both agencies have large work forces and many workers who undertake physically demanding jobs.
Most of DOC's claims are from employees who were injured at state prisons, records show. DHS workers in two large facilities for the developmentally disabled and in children's shelters were among the largest categories of claims, records show.
And while Gov. Mary Fallin and state lawmakers have made workers compensation reform one of their top priorities this legislative session, finding a bottom-line figure on what the state spends in workers comp-related costs isn't easy.
It's not a line item on state budgets or state websites devoted to tracking even the most obscure expenses.
CompSource, the state's insurance provider, refused to provide the World even basic information about the state's workers compensation costs. Stephanie Elwood, a spokeswoman, said the nonprofit insurer is a "quasi-public-private entity" that is not subject to the state Open Records Act.
Although most state agencies know what they spend on workers compensation insurance premiums, the total costs - including money paid to injured workers and for court settlement costs - are hard to determine.
DHS paid a total of $12.9 million in court awards to injured workers during the five-year period studied by the World, while DOC paid about $10.3 million, data show.
Because most workers compensation cases don't end up in court, the figures are a small part of those agencies' total spending on workers compensation-related expenses during that time. Spending by DHS on workers compensation claims, insurance and related costs increased from $7.3 million in fiscal year 2008 to $8.5 million in fiscal year 2011, DHS records show.
Sheree Powell, a spokeswoman for DHS, said in an email that the agency has a number of safety and training programs to reduce employee injuries.
"Most injuries are incurred by direct care staff at the emergency children's shelters (the Laura Dester Children's Center in Tulsa and the Pauline Mayer Children's Shelter in Oklahoma City) and at the state-run institutions for people with developmental disabilities (Northern and Southern Oklahoma Resource Centers in Enid and Pauls Valley). Also, our Child and Adult Protective Services staff are often injured during the course of their investigations."
Powell said DHS has a policy "that helps return employees to duty as soon as possible, either to their original position, or if necessary, reassignment to light or modified duty."
She said the World's questions regarding state workers compensation costs have prompted DHS to examine the situation more closely.
"In reviewing our agency's workers compensation costs, our new director, Ed Lake, has some concerns and questions about the policy and the costs. He is going to be looking into this in more detail with department staff," Powell said.
Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, provided records showing that DOC spends about $5 million per year on workers comp insurance premiums.
He also provided figures showing that DOC employees have filed more than 1,100 workers comp claims since fiscal year 2009. Two large state prisons - Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington - were responsible for more than 100 claims each during that time.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said Fallin believes that "all government agencies can benefit from safety education efforts and reforms targeted at reducing claims."
"Governor Fallin believes that workers compensation premiums for employers - including Oklahoma's state government - are too high. High workers comp costs can drive jobs out of state and, in this case, cost taxpayer dollars, as well."
State agencies' workers compensation court settlements
|Agency||Total settlements||Number of employees*|
|Department of Human Services||$12,949,538 ||7,257|
|Department of Corrections||$10,374,718||4,039|
|Department of Veteran Affairs||$8,568,863||1,659|
|Department of Transportation||$6,103,729||2,385|
|University of Oklahoma||$5,067,319||N/A|
|Department of Mental Health||$4,160,514||1,693|
|Department of Public Safety||$3,615,510||1,373|
|Oklahoma State University||$3,180,655||N/A|
|Office of Juvenile Affairs||$3,145,910||766|
|OU Medical Center||$2,300,338||N/A|
*Number of full-time equivalents according to Office of Personnel Management FY 2011 annual report. Current figures not available for higher education system employees.
Source: Tulsa World analysis of workers compensation court data, 2007-2011
Original Print Headline: DHS leads state in court settlement costs
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471