Consider incorporating Washington state's new "Vocational Recovery" model in your RETAIN bid!

Jennifer Christian MD

In his June 7 column, Bob Wilson briefly described Washington State’s new “Vocational Recovery” project.   In this model, VR’s are getting involved in cases of workers with experiencing work disruption due to a work-related MUCH MUCH MUCH earlier than usual  – at an average of 68 days compared to the prior 350 days.   Apparently this new model is paying off big time – see below – and it should do the same thing for people whose work is being interrupted by non-work-related health problems. 


See more facts about Washington’s new approach below, but here are the implications of it for you:    If you are part of a VR agency and are trying to come up with innovative ideas for how you can contribute to your state’s RETAIN proposal, look at the details of Washington’s new Vocational Recovery project.   In RETAIN, very early collaboration between COHE care coordinators and VR specialists might be an excellent way to significantly reduce the number of cases that end up with long term work interruption and job loss.  In fact the long term disability rates in Washington workers' compensation have dropped by 20% – that's what Bob refers to in his posting below as “disability”!    (See the chart with data that demonstrates that impact!)   


Here are some key excerpts from Bob’s posting:


“Starting back in 2014, the [Labor & Industries] department … launched an effort to improve the return to work rate for their injured workers while lowering the amount of long term disability cases they were seeing. They launched an aggressive program designed to get injured workers into the hands of Vocational Counselors faster and to more effect. On the faster front, they took a VRC referral rate that was running over 350 days and reduced that time to an average of 68 days…. The results since the inception of that effort have been impressive. The state has seen a 20% reduction in the number of long term disability cases – a number that equals about 800 workers every year. Director Joel Sacks, in a presentation to the group reported that the state is starting to see a reduction in “expected expenditures” of about two billion dollars. That's “Billion” with a “B.” And while that reduction in future liabilities may not be 100% attributable to early Voc intervention, it is the result of a culture shift that embraces creative solutions and ultimate recovery……


Laying out 9 distinct goals for the program (6 of which have been enacted in the current pilot), [the Vocational Recovery Project] is designed to pair claims managers directly with vocational experts to collaborate on a recovery plan for their injured workers….


Many of them spoke of how positive an experience they had working closely with their assigned counterparts. They described unique problems with injured workers, as well as the very original solutions they created in this collaborative effort. They spoke about teamwork and troubleshooting. They talked about the importance of recognizing psycho-social influences. They described creative solutions that would otherwise not have manifested themselves. It was interesting to see people outside their comfort zones recognize that this was actually a good place to be….


[Washington’s workers’ compensation fund is] …doing the right thing; showing that lives can be restored, disability can be avoided, and money can be saved in the process. L&I is embracing the importance of addressing psychosocial issues. They are encouraging collaboration and original thought in problem solving. And they are getting results that are making a difference. They understand that avoiding disability at all cost will ultimately save money and restore lives.”





To read Bob’s whole column, go here:



Jennifer Christian, MD, MPH

President / Chief Medical Officer

Webility Corporation

95 Woodridge Road

Wayland, MA 01778

Office:  508-358-5218 (preferred)

Mobile:  617-803-9835

Email: jennifer.christian@...





Karen Huyck


Thank you for all the info. Do you have any insight into the role of the State Department of Health in these projects? We have everyone on board but the state health department, who is interested but uncertain what their role will need to be.

I hope all is well. Hopefully, I will have good news mid-week that the health department is in!

Karen (in Vermont)