A series of articles emphasizing practical
knowledge you can't find in practice guides
and interviews with experts who share
their techniques for effective and efficient
case management
 
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& Practice Tips

Articles emphasizing practical knowledge you
can't find in practice guides

  People Who Made A Difference
Profiles of people who changed workers’ compensation law.

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• Warren Schneider
• Marjory Harris

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  In an ongoing series of profiles on people
who made a difference in the workers’
compensation system, Peggy Sugarman
talks about her passion for workers’
compensation and her various roles in the
system over 30+ years. She began her career in 1977 as a vocational
rehabilitation counselor and coordinator for catastrophic injuries in the
insurance industry. In 1986 she joined the California Department of Industrial
Relations’ Division of Workers’ Compensation. By 1990, she was the head of
the statewide vocational rehabilitation unit until she was appointed to the
executive management team. From 1992-2000 she served as the DWC Chief
Deputy Administrative Director. From 2000-2006 she was a consultant to
various stakeholders (including California Applicants’ Attorneys Association
and Voters Injured at Work). She is currently the Training Director for the Law
Offices of Grancell, Lebovitz, Stander, Reubens and Thomas, a workers’
compensation defense firm in California.

Ms. Sugarman received her B.A. in psychology from the University of California
at Davis and her M.S. in counseling from California State University in Sacramento. She is currently working on her doctorate in Organizational Psychology at the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management.

 
I am honored to be considered as someone who has made a difference in the California workers’ compensation system. My career decisions and opportunities have allowed me to view the system from many different perspectives. My former position as Chief Deputy Administrative Director provided a unique opportunity for me to experience and learn in a very challenging management
and policy environment, after which my consulting work took me into the world of politics and advocacy.

Through these experiences, I have learned some critical things about myself. First, I have a seemingly insatiable interest in all aspects of the system. I also love teaching and writing. So, as the Training Director for the Law Offices of Grancell, Lebovitz, Stander, Reubens and Thomas, I have a unique opportunity to do the things I love to do while also helping clients to improve their understanding of the system.

The system has changed dramatically since I began what was supposed to be a temporary job almost 32 years ago, requiring participants to put aside their daily tasks while navigating through cloudy statutory language, keeping abreast of appellate decisions that altered decades of common practices, read and understand reams of new regulations, and more recently to cope with entirely new filing practices based on the long-awaited Electronic Adjudication Management System [EAMS] at the DWC. Many, if not all, of these changes require new work processes and new ways of thinking. These challenges would be easier if the work didn’t pile up while you are busy trying to figure out what to do, which is as true for DWC employees as it is for claims professionals and attorneys.

In my role as a trainer, I always try to provide an historical context to any rule or change so that the participants have a broader understanding of how various issues have evolved. Many of them make more sense when viewed through the broad lenses of basic public policy and decades of festering appellate arguments. For example, the pre-SB 899 arguments embedded in the appellate law on §5814 penalties were windows into the employer’s feelings on the matter, which translated directly into how the laws were amended once the opportunity arose for employers to implement such a change. Likewise, when I was the Deputy Director for the DWC, employers were flooding the division with recommendations in 1992 to adopt the AMA Guides as the new method for determining permanent disability. Where there are strong feelings, you can be sure to eventually see some proposed legislation to deal with them.

I also try to help clients see changes from different perspectives. As I looked into the back rooms of the DWC as they implement the new EAMS system, I was struck by the number of steps that are required to get an OCR filing “into” EAMS. By sharing these steps with claims personnel, it helps them to understand why certain things are required and to have patience while DWC works to get this ambitious program up and running. I am grateful to division staff members who have spent precious time allowing me to view their internal processes so that I can assist our clients with the proper information. Talk about a win-win!

One thing continues to be a challenge to all system participants: how to do the best job possible given the myriad of changes. This includes more than understanding the history and the newest rules that govern your business, or changing your business processes to accommodate such changes. It involves a reexamination of personal goals. How do you fit into this new workers’ compensation world? How are you coping with the changes and what are you doing to adapt to them?

Personally, I decided to return to school to obtain my Ph.D. in organizational psychology. As a “returning student”, which is a kind way of saying that I’m probably the oldest student in the program, it has been the path to complete transformation despite the grueling schedule of working during the day, attending classes at night. I am now able to better recognize and understand the issues, both policy and management, that confront those of us who are committed to a career in California’s workers’ compensation. Already, this experience is like a gift that keeps giving: I can continually apply the knowledge to my work.

As knowledge seems to be the key to a better understanding of the world, training is the key to an improved benefit delivery system. All of our clients want to deliver benefits properly, timely and fairly. No claims administrator wants to be caught in an audit penalty or a §5814.6 assessment. To the extent that training helps claims administrators to deliver benefits according to the law, disputes are minimized, penalties are avoided, and costs are reduced. I hope that my training efforts have contributed to these goals.

Thanks again for honoring me as one who has contributed to the system in a positive way, and I hope to continue to do so for many years to come!


 

> Doctor's Office: Functional
Restoration
> People Who Made a Difference
> Pain Disorders & DFEC
> Defense Perspective: Surviving
> Chapman on Structured Settlements
> PD Pain Under SB 899
Making a Difference:
Looking Back and Moving Forward
By Peggy Sugarman