WCAC Meeting Focuses on Voc Rehab Reform

The Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC) held its February meeting yesterday in Baton Rouge. The vocational rehabilitation counselor task force report led most of the meeting, along with several other announcements, including the 2019 Kids’ Chance fundraiser.

Council member Shannon Dartez gave a report of the results of the vocational rehabilitation counselor task force, which includes herself along with Larry Stokes and Julie Cherry. Dartez first dispelled the notion that voc rehab could be taken in house, meaning assigned and administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC), because of a lack of resources. Therefore, she explained, the task force focused on ways that voc rehab could increase trust between the counselor and the injured worker even as the counselor is paid by the workers’ comp carrier or employer.

Dartez said that the task force discussed “ways to elevate the role of the vocational rehabilitation counselor” so that the voc rehab counselor is “truly allowed” to perform their duties, rather than just performing a labor market survey. Council member and voc rehab counselor Larry Stokes added after Dartez’s summation that there are consistent issues within the system that prevent the voc rehab counselor from fully engaging with the injured worker, especially when they are told to “just get the file closed.”

All parties in the discussion that followed stated that they are in favor of substantive voc rehab, with some differences about what that would mean in practice. Council member and claimant attorney Maria Losavio noted that she often sees issues with voc rehab when the counselor claims a job is “available” when it effectively isn’t. “If there’s a job opening for a burger flipper and there are 500 people applying for that job who aren’t injured, my guy isn’t going to get it,” she said. Losavio opined further that she believes that minimal voc rehab is provided by some carriers simply to reduce or eliminate benefits.

Dartez stated that legislation is possible, likely in the 2020 Legislative Session rather than this year’s Session, which is fiscal only. Specifically, Dartez said that the task force would like to pursue changes to the statute that “adjust the hierarchy” of voc rehab in the system and perhaps strengthen education and re-training possibilities.

Pauline Williams took the floor next to discuss the new electronic payments for records management. The payment system for records requests will roll out over the next 30-45 days.

Judge Laramore announced the details of the annual Kids’ Chance fundraiser, the theme of which is “Peace, Love & Kids’ Chance.” The event will take place on May 10th, 2019 5-8 PM. at the Moore Hunter Law Office, adults and kids 13+ pay $25 for food, drinks and entertainment.

Council co-chair Chuck Davoli spoke briefly about the recent CWCP class he held at the Baton Rouge Community College. The classes are sponsored by the Workforce Commission and will be semi-regular. He said that the 40 hour class is aimed at adjusters but could benefit anyone in the workers’ compensation industry. Details on the next class will be announced soon.

Finally, Council Chair and OWC Director Sheral Kellar introduced everyone to Caroline Minor, who will replace Judy Franklin as lead mediator for the OWC.

The next WCAC meeting will be April 25th.

Members present: Davoli, Dartez, Jones, Stokes, Perkins, Losavio, Cherry, Kellar, Morris, Zimmerman, Williams, Lindsey, Hunter

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