Employees Look to HR to Evaluate COVID-19 Data Before Reopening

Many employers are looking at the opportunity to allow employees to return to their workplace, but before returning many are asking and reaching out to their HR departments to look and rely on local, state, and federal data in order to make a safe transition back into office. Read this blog post to learn more.

When national staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group began putting in place the necessary measures to reopen the company's offices in Texas, Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of human resources, relied on local, state and federal data to make the transition.

The company's employees switched to remote work during the week of March 16. Since then, Buchenroth and her colleagues have been monitoring coronavirus cases in Texas, where the numbers are changing fast.

Recent data from Texas health authorities demonstrates why it's important for human resource managers to follow infection and hospitalization rates in different geographies.

According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, nearly 75,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the first week of June and more than 1,800 people died of COVID-19. As of July 19, nearly 4,000 people had died from COVID-19 in the state, and the death toll is expected to rise further as reported cases have climbed to over 330,000.

Texas Health and Human Services has posted a warning on its website: "Please note that all data are provisional and subject to change. Probable cases are not included in the total case numbers."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began clearing the way for businesses to reopen in May to restart the state's economy but had to roll back those plans after COVID-19 deaths began to rise. In the midst of this, the Addison Group reopened its San Antonio/Houston offices on May 4, its Dallas location on May 18 and its Austin facility on May 20. The company closed its Texas offices for the July 4 holiday and has kept them closed as it considers what to do next.

"While we successfully opened our Texas offices in May for employees who wanted to return to in-person work, we've decided to close these locations and will monitor the situation in case we need to reassess," Buchenroth said. "The safety of our employees remains Addison Group's top priority, and we will continue to leverage federal, state and local data to inform any future decisions."

She said employees who return to the office will need to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, such as wearing a mask and maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from others.

"We want to make sure that employees feel safe when they return to the office," Buchenroth said.

She added that the company takes into consideration the many factors that can influence an employee's decision to return to the office, including child care needs, elder care responsibilities, and serious underlying medical conditions that put individuals at high risk of developing a severe illness from COVID-19.

Coronavirus and COVID-19


Using Data to Inform Reopening

As more businesses reopen, employers will have to decide if going to the office is safe based on the data received from local health authorities. Insight from that data will determine how employers will design their workspaces to allow for adequate social distancing within an office, how many workers will be allowed in the office at a time and whether remote work will continue for the foreseeable future.

John Dooney, an HR Knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management, said he has noticed an increase in the number of inquiries from HR professionals about new federal, state and local measures and how to safely reopen businesses. He added that while health officials have gained a better understanding of the coronavirus during the past four months, there is still a lot more to learn.

"The pandemic is evolving, and we haven't had the luxury of time to get the information we need," Dooney said. "I think it's important for HR managers to continually review data from authoritative resources."

HR needs to be aware of the changes states are making as they reverse previous decisions on reopening their economies given increasing coronavirus infections and death rates in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas. The current crisis, Dooney said, should prompt HR professionals to be more involved with their senior leadership teams in the decision-making process.

"HR executives should work with senior managers to come up with the best ideas that protect their employees," Dooney advised. "The leadership team should be looking at not only how to maintain the business, but also how to implement adequate protections."

Employers' responses will also depend on the work environment at each company. Hospitals, supermarkets, pharmacies and delivery services, for example, need employees at their worksites; many knowledge-based businesses, however, are better-suited to rely on remote workers.

Gavin Morton, head of people and financial operations at HR.com, said as discrepancies arise in the actual number of coronavirus infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, employees will want to know that their employers have seen the data, considered it carefully and are concerned about workers' safety.

"We all want to know exactly what's going on, but it is very difficult for medical professionals and coroners to quickly ascribe deaths to COVID-19 or other causes," Morton said. "It is logical that there are both more cases and more infections than are being reported, since the testing numbers are still relatively low, and we may not know for years what the true impact has been."

Morton added that employers are in a powerful position to reduce their employees' anxiety. "Employers need to read carefully to understand what the reliable facts are and use them to inform their employees rather than alarm them. Clarity, calm and honesty go a long way," he said.

Morton said HR professionals should consider and educate the leadership team in two key areas:

  • How this information impacts the business and employees. Some data could have little to no impact on a company, depending on such factors as location and type of business, while other information could have a severe impact. An outbreak of cases in a city four hours away may not worry the organization's local employees, but if someone's parents live in that city, he or she may be personally very concerned.
  • Employee sentiment. It is critical to understand how employees are feeling and how new data can affect their confidence in their safety.

Contact tracing, new coronavirus cases, new hospitalizations, and increases or drops in the number of people dying from COVID-19 will be critical data that will contribute to HR managers' planning.

Human resource professionals should remember, too, that the data are interrelated.

For example, Morton noted that while an increase in deaths reported is alarming, it doesn't necessarily mean that there are more cases; similarly, falling death rates may not mean that transmission today is low. Information about deaths is only one piece of the puzzle.

Developing measures to secure the safety and encourage the performance of employees during the second half of the year won't be easy, especially if there is suspicion that federal, state and local information on the COVID-19 crisis isn't accurate.

"The numbers are really important, and companies need to pay close attention to information which impacts their employees and their customers," Morton said. "While the data can help guide their decisions, HR leaders and company leaders still need to interpret the data. This is true for any information, and so the uncertainty around death reporting is no different. Company leaders need to use their best judgment based on their knowledge of their business, employees and customers."

SOURCE: Lewis, N. (20 July 2020) "Employees Look to HR to Evaluate COVID-19 Data Before Reopening" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/hr-evaluate-covid19-data-before-reopening.aspx

High-level executives often do not understand company risks

Originally posted July 25, 2013 by Rodd Zolkos on https://www.businessinsurance.com

A new report from Forbes Insights sponsored by Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. suggests that many executives don't understand their companies' exposure to risks or their strategies to manage them.

The survey of 414 U.S. executives in the banking and financial services, real estate, health care and construction industries found that 28% indicated their company had suffered financial damage as a result of operational risk, 27% because of regulatory or compliance risk and 26% as a result of financial risk.

But when asked about the top barriers to effective risk management, 36% of executives in banking and financial services and 29% of those in real estate cited a lack of understanding of how to mitigate exposures as the top barrier. Among construction executives, 43% cited a lack of understanding of the sources of risk as the top barrier, while insufficient risk management budget was cited as the top barrier by 33% of health care executives.

A lack of understanding of how to mitigate risks was the second-greatest barrier cited by construction executives, at 27%, and health care executives, at 30%.

However, large percentages of executives in each industry category indicated they would manage risk no differently in the next three years: 41% of banking and financial services executives, 50% of construction executives, 42% of health care executives and 47% of real estate executives.

Of the total group, 76% of executives rated the need to align risk management with their company's growth strategy as very or extremely important, and 68% said they thought their company was doing so. But only 54% said they were confident or very confident of how aware they were of the risks associated with their company's growth strategies.

The report, “The Sharp Side of Risk: Understanding, Anticipating and Managing Business Risk,” is available here.


How analytics can help employers measure and manage risks

Original article from https://ebn.benefitnews.com

By Jan Peter Ozga

“If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed” is rapidly becoming the operating philosophy of the health care industry, aided in large part by more extensive use of electronic health care records, mobile applications and the growth of population health management. Using health care analytics — sometimes called business intelligence — researchers and consultants are mining clinical and claims data to discover gold standards and establish best practices for prevention, treatment and self care and, ideally, help reduce waste, abuse and fraud.

The goals are simple but have remained elusive: Identify what works, what should be charged, and how the cost should be shared, so maximum value can be derived from the $2.7 trillion being spent on health care. Potential beneficiaries include all of the five P stakeholders: providers, patients, payers (insurers), policymakers (legislators and regulators), and, of course, purchasers (employers), whose health plans cover nearly six out of ten employees and their dependents.

Population health management — historically confined to public health practitioners — seeks to provide positive health outcomes for a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group, as well reducing health inequities among high risk/vulnerable populations. As such, population health management goes beyond the individual-level focus of mainstream medicine and public health by addressing factors such as environment, social structure, and resource distribution. PHM has proved especially effective for wellness and disease management programs.

An essential element in population health management is the role social determinants play in achieving and sustaining good health. Social determinants of health are the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illness.

Health care analytics comes in two basic forms. One is real-time analytics, which examine clinical information at the point of care and support health providers as they make prescriptive decisions during a patient encounter. These real-time systems typically use two or more items of patient data to generate case-specific advice.  The other form is batch analytics that retrospectively evaluate population data sets, i.e., records of patients in a large medical system, or claims data from an insured population.

Batch health care analytics, in turn, supports predictive modeling, which is used on multiple clinical conditions. This process can identify undiagnosed conditions for patients within an insurer’s patient population or suggest interventions to prevent conditions from developing. Such modeling uses historical data to anticipate with greater accuracy future events. By contrast, explanatory modeling documents how and why certain empirical phenomena occur.

Within the context of health care, predictive and explanatory modeling use patient health information to drive medical decision-making. Data are derived from a variety of sources, including point-of-care encounters, medical claims, pharmacy claims, lab values, health risk assessments, genetic markers, and biometrics. These data are combined with medical guidelines and patient profiles to reveal contraindicated care, gaps in care, and opportunities for cost savings.

“Health care analytics applies an additional level of science to the art of medicine, thereby validating the value proposition. When such assessments are performed by a qualified third-party, providers and insurers can devote more time to their core competencies — and the data are rendered more credible,” says Yvonne Wasilewski, senior research scientist with SciMetrika in Durham, N.C.

According to LiveHealthier founder and CEO, Mary Moslander, understanding how health care analytics supports PHM is fundamental to delivering a work place wellness program that provides measurable results.”
“Empathizing with employees and leveraging their behaviors, barriers to change, fears and motivations are as important as predictive modeling and biometric outcomes,” she says.

And all of this translates to a healthier bottom line. For example, according to the consulting firm Aon Hewitt, population health management can help employers save as much as $700 per employee per year when they focus on any three of these eight major health care behaviors (which contribute to 80 percent of the cases of chronic illness): poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, lack of health screening, poor standard of care, insufficient sleep, excess alcohol intake, and, poor stress management.

Experts predict that more employers will embrace a more quantified, analytic approach to health care because of its potential to contribute to value-based purchasing of health services and to increase accountability and transparency. Helen Darling, CEO of the National Business Group on Health says that “health care analytics have become as essential to effective management as financial data are to business.”

Leading the type of health plans that are embracing population health management and health care analytics are accountable care organizations and medical homes, encouraged by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Action. A hallmark of ACOs is that providers agree to accept a flat payment for a given treatment plan for a disease or condition, in exchange for sharing in the savings they may produce.

The analyses associated with the medical home and ACO “exemplify how the population’s health needs have changed and how the marketplace must respond to this change," says Marci Nielsen, PhD, MPH, the chief executive officer of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative. “The success and impact of the medical home and medical neighborhood are critically dependent on gathering and analyzing health data from patient populations that will prevent leading causes of illness, manage and treat illness more effectively, and reduce costs to the system.”

The PHM movement is still a work in progress and its results need to be further documented. Consulting firm Mathematica has found that not all PHM programs are equal, referencing surveys that showed employers gave vendors mixed reviews on their ability to help employees make healthy lifestyle decisions and comply with preventive care guidelines. Thus, due diligence should be conducted before selecting a PHM provider.