Understanding Work Comp in the Healthcare Industry

10 Jan, 2020 Rebecca Shafer


Interested stakeholders in the healthcare industry face many unique challenges in terms of finding affordable workers’ compensation insurance coverage. This is especially the case when it comes to those who operate hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. These challenges include rising premiums based on the nature and extent of work injuries and accompanying restrictions on activity that serve as a barrier when it comes to getting an injured employee back to work.

Understanding Nursing Homes and Work Comp

Nursing homes can be found in every state.  Many are privately owned and managed, but regional and national nursing home companies are gradually increasing their share of the market.  The workforce of the nursing home will consist of:

  • Registered nurses (RN);
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPN);
  • Nurses’ aides;
  • Administrative staff;
  • Food service; and
  • Housekeeping

The primary workforce issue is often the training and turn-over among the nurses’ aides.

Dealing with Work Injuries at Nursing Homes

Safety is normally emphasized in nursing homes to protect both the patients and the staff. Nursing homes are built to protect the patients and staff, which tends to lower the risk of injury.

Physical hazards and causes of injury to nursing home employees include:

  • Lifting and moving of patients, the most common cause of work-related injuries;
  • Musculoskeletal injuries; and
  • Needle sticks and dealing with infectious diseases communicated via bodily fluids.

Medical care for workers’ compensation injuries in this line of work is readily available because most states require a duty nurse to be on duty at all times. Minor work-related injuries, including cuts, bruises and abrasions, can be treated by the on-staff nurse or by other nurses on duty. For more severe injuries, medical facilities are often located nearby.

Reducing Indemnity Benefits in Healthcare Settings

The cost of indemnity benefits for workers’ compensation injuries at nursing homes averages approximately the same as work comp benefits for all industries. Occupational diseases and associated disability benefits occur infrequently among nursing home employees. 

Some categories related to nursing homes that would have the same or similar work comp issues include: 

  • Hospitals including acute care hospitals;
  • Home health services;
  • Retirement centers;
  • Boarding homes; and
  • Assisted living facilities.

While many of the jobs in this industry require the ability to lift patients (heavy lifting), accommodation may be possible. Equipment such as mechanical lifts and friction-reducing devices decrease both the frequency and severity of the injury and make temporary accommodation easier to accomplish. A union contract may serve as a barrier to return-to-work issues in some instances. It is important to keep these issues in mind when negotiating a labor contract and to seek cooperation from union representatives on these issues.

Notwithstanding this matter, there are ways to get injured healthcare employees back to work in a timely and efficient matter.  Possible temporary transitional work includes: 

  • Office Workers: Look for ways to accommodate prolonged sitting and standing as needed, or to elevate a broken limb.  Lifting beyond physician assigned abilities could be done by another employee.
  • RN, LPN & Nurses’ Aides: Utilize other employees to do the “heavy” lifting of patients or equipment. Provide equipment to make patient transport non-strenuous.
  • Food Service: Identify tasks within the cafeteria or snack bar within physician assigned abilities such as light cleaning or working the cash register.
  • Other Employees: Consider placement at an Information Booth to help visitors with directions or assistance.
  • Light Janitorial: Employees can use a broom and long handle dustpan to clean up spills and litter.


Engaged stakeholders in the healthcare and nursing home industry need to be creative in managing workers’ compensation claims and reducing program costs. This required them to seek creative solutions to manage medical care based on the severity of the work injury, and look to get an employee back on the job within their restrictions. This may require compromise, but will promote savings in the long run.

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