NOVO Live: The Podcast

Episode 6: Caring for Workplace Athletes

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About Traci Tauferner

A licensed athletic trainer, certified strength & conditioning specialist and the Director of Industrial Medicine and Wellness at Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, Traci Tauferner specializes in working with employers to provide proactive approaches to wellness, safety, and injury prevention. Serving others is one of Tauferner’s great passions. She joined the Army at 17 and spent nine years in the National Guard, including a 15-month deployment in Iraq providing security and surveillance support for tactical units. After her deployment, Tauferner was the first member of the Wisconsin National Guard to be inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, a private U.S. Army organization for enlisted non-commissioned officers (NCOs) whose leadership achievements and performance merit special recognition. Learn more:

The Transcript

Curt Kubiak: Welcome to this month’s edition of NOVO Live – The Podcast. We are glad to be back with you again, as we continue our discussions with influencers within, you know, the health care delivery models, whether they be employers or physician groups, providers, and the like. And so I’m excited to join you this month with my guest, Traci Tauferner from Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. Traci, welcome. Glad to have you on the show.

Traci Tauferner: Thank you. I appreciate being here.

Curt Kubiak: So what I’d like to do… You’ve got a vast knowledge on this topic of preventative care. So we’ve talked quite a bit about what do we what do we do when we need to address acute issues. But part of what the employers are looking for, in particular, that we talked to, are how do I prevent those issues from occurring in the first place? And a lot of what you specifically have been trained in, and what Advanced is doing, is surrounding this whole preventative type of issue. And then in addition, you also do some of the back end, after you know, a procedure has been done, how do I rehab and get back, you know, to, you know, my life pre issues? Right? But let’s talk a little bit about you, you specifically. So how did you get involved in, you know, in physical therapy and the role that you’re in right now, if you could just take us through that?

Traci Tauferner: Oh, goodness. Well, that’s a little bit of the history there. But let’s see if I can keep it good and interesting for the listeners. So, I am actually an athletic trainer, and strength conditioning specialist. And so I’ve been in the industrial world for over 12 years, working everywhere from the ergonomic aspects, the preventative aspect for stretching programs, strength and conditioning, and then taking those programs all the way through into a situation where we’re evaluating injuries, and then performing actual physical therapy and we’re conditioning on site for employer companies. And then even taking it a step further, if needed to do even more strength and conditioning out of a work conditioning type environment. So it has been a very fulfilling career for me thus far. I’m super excited to see where things are going. And they continue to grow from that perspective, as more employers just get used to the concept of having individuals and companies like us here to do these types of services for them.

Curt Kubiak: So, colloquially I’ve heard of the expression work athlete, right? So is it sounds interesting, right? You don’t think of folks that are involved in manual, you know, jobs as being athletes. But in fact, you’re gonna work with those folks, like you would an athlete? Is that true?

Traci Tauferner: Yes. That’s so true. I actually tell people all the time, if you think of the industrial world, more of like, you know, the NFL football team. So here in Wisconsin, we’ve got the Green Bay Packers, OK, and our quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. And if Aaron Rodgers gets injured, guess what? He sees his athletic trainer that day. He sees his orthopedic surgeon that day, if necessary, If he needs physical therapy, he’s getting physical therapy the next day, OK. We’re trying to bring that entire model, or employers should at least think of that model, coming out into their work setting. As the industrial athletes, yes, you’re active, you have a physically aggressive job that needs you to do strength and conditioning all day long. So if you get injured, why can’t you see your athletic trainer that day? Why can’t you see that surgeon or that orthopedic if you have something more musculoskeletal that day? And why can’t you do physical therapy that day, or you know, as soon as surgery is over on site, at your work environment, where you train or play, or however you want to look at it work every single day. So that concept really is beautiful. If you look at it, you know how it can translate over to that industrial athlete type scenario.

Curt Kubiak: So we’ve got to think with the end in mind here a little bit, right? So, we don’t necessarily think of all of our employees like a star athlete like Aaron Rodgers, right? But in fact, you know, given today’s climate with the fierce competition for workers, and the shortage of workers, it’s really important for an employer to keep these folks on the job and to make certain that we’re treating them with the respect that they deserve, you know, relative to their value to the organization, right? People are the biggest asset to any organization, if you ask an employer, they’ll tell you that. You’re suggesting that we should actually treat them like that VIP like with that Aaron Rodgers type of a status?

Traci Tauferner: Yes, I am, actually.

Curt Kubiak: So can you talk to me a little bit about some of the groups that you work with? Because I know that some of them are going to be more traditional in a manufacturing setting, but others are municipalities, right? So firefighters and police force and things like that. Can you talk to me about some of the groups that Advanced works with and some of the things that you’re doing to support that workforce?

Traci Tauferner: I sure can. So, I think we have to back up a little bit when we think about the industrial world industrial world doesn’t just mean manufacturing, as you alluded to. It does mean, you know, your police officers, your firefighters, your military, I mean, honestly, the industrial type world can focus on anything from shipping and receiving, you know, to your logistics, to your warehouses to wherever it may particularly come out to, in the end. When we look at specifically how all these pieces kind of fall together in the world, the number of employees doesn’t matter, just like your sports team. It may be the number of hours or the extent of the services that may be involved when it comes to putting, you know, these types of services in place. But really, we work with employers that have 50 employees to employers that have 5,000 and plus. So it just really depends on the scenario and what the needs are for the company and properly analyzing those needs to make sure that you’ve got the right services in place at the right time.

Curt Kubiak: So it’s interesting that you talk about, you know, groups as small as, say, 50, right. So you think, Gosh, at 50, can I really afford to have access to somebody that can help me with injury prevention. And, in fact, the 50 employee operation might actually be more dependent on that worker being there and being productive than a group of 5,000. Right? Because they might have a bench strength that’s larger. So talk to me about how do you make it affordable and accessible for an employer with 50 employees to be able to have access to, you know, the type of ergonomic assessment and conditioning that you’re talking about?

Traci Tauferner: Oh, goodness. So, again, we usually when we meet with clients, or you know, just for the listeners out there, because I know, we’re looking at listeners nationally, you know, meeting with your particular a physical therapist, athletic trainer, whatever type of group you decide to partner with, to address the medical perspective within your company, you’ve got to look at what types of things are really going on. Is your trouble that your workers comp claims are out of control? Is your trouble retention? Is your trouble hiring and those people being new hires only making it 30-60-90 days in the job? Those types of things are going to set you up for what type of programs could be available to them. I would say in one of our companies that we have, where we have actually 44 employees that are within this company, we provide onsite services for them five hours a week, which sounds a little bit more, but this particular company is also a tactical community. So it’s a police officer group. And they may have a little bit of a higher physical need than maybe your traditional administrative worker that is, you know, in a more sitting type of position throughout their day. So, in our particular tactical setting, that five hours translates into opportunities to do ergonomic assessments on the vehicles, the gear, anything that may be related to the squad, or the work situations that they’re involved with. That five hours also is heavily involved, usually about 60% of that time, is spent doing injury evaluations or just reactive type care. So physical therapy, fitting an officer with a proper brace, or, you know, adjusting it or gear or whatever that may be. And then the other little bit of that time is more strength and conditioning, wellness, sleep, health, mental health, all those things that kind of play in to the mindset of of a tactical, you know, police officer type person.


Curt Kubiak: OK, so there’s a lot. So let’s talk a little bit first about this ergonomic assessment. So we’re really talking about is evaluating a person’s workplace, right, because the way that things are situated within their workstation or work environment could either prevent or potentially cause injury. And so you do an evaluation of the workplace?  To determine whether or not it is set up for that individual or the type of job that it is? Talk to me a little bit about the assessment component first.

Traci Tauferner: So I think that is probably one of the fastest growing areas that I’m seeing as an industrial therapist right now is that we are seeing companies really catch on to this concept of having the testing component, whether it’s post-offer testing, return to work testing fit for duty testing, whichever language or type of tests that a company is looking for ensuring that that testing is actually job related, and meeting the essential functions within that particular worker’s world. And so the ergonomic assessments/job analysis, depending again which words are which term is you’re familiar with, means we’re coming into the workspace, we’re going to meet with a worker that’s currently doing the work, and we’re going to get out things like a force gauge, a grip gauge, scales, tape measures, we’re going to measure that work. What does it take to lift that box? What does it take to carry that tool from the workbench to the work area? And then we’re going to take all that information, put it into a great document that can be used to alleviate that gray area of conversation that happens between your injured worker and your physician. That’s such a trouble spot, right? And we talk about physicians a lot, and I love physicians, but sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. And by doing a proper job analysis, you’re able to, again, have some clarity and get that job description a little more black and white versus what it says on the HR document. Most companies that we have worked with in the past the HR document is something that they got off the web is something they got through your particular software. There’s a arbitrary number usually on there of lift, 50 pounds, and sure, like, where did that 50 pounds come from, we didn’t find anything that’s 50 pounds out there. But yet you’re testing the workers are expecting them to adhere to that type of standard. And so creating clarity with that job analysis, ergonomic assessments to kind of get back to where we were, is super important. It just sets the foundation up for that worker that’s coming into that environment to know what is expected of them. And then you can further take that document and explore different avenues like, you know, return to work testing after injury, or you can utilize that document to again, create clarity between the physician and between the case manager. /you can utilize it for different types of fit for duty, usually, though, that’s more Functional Capacity Evaluations, but you could utilize it to again, assess the worker’s ability to do the job.

Curt Kubiak: OK. So what I’m understanding then is as you review a specific job within a specific manufacturing setting, or a specific work setting, you’re typically an employer is going to have a job description. But the job description probably isn’t detailed enough to make certain that the people that are going to be fulfilling that role are going to be fit to manufacture the way that the employer intends that role to be executed. And and what I’m understanding is, there’s yes, there’s work to getting it set up. But once you get it set up, now I can evaluate an employee prior to them becoming an employee, right? So pre-employment test to make sure that they’re fit. If in fact, we do have an injury at that role, that I could also use that same assessment to understand OK, what is it going to take to get this person back into that role? So there is quite a bit of work to getting these descriptions created that are specific to the job, not just generic off of the web, or right. But you can actually use that work in a couple of different ways. And this is what you’re what you’re experiencing now. And you’re saying this is becoming actually more popular from an employer’s perspective,

Traci Tauferner: It is. We’re trying, we’re starting again, to see that trend that an injured worker is coming back, whether it’s a worker’s comp, you know, work related type incident, or whether it’s a personal injury type incident, those workers coming back into that environment and not being ready to perform that work, because they maybe didn’t have the best therapist, maybe they didn’t have a doctor that understood their job. Or, maybe there’s just another reason why. But they come back in that environment after that injury. And now they made themselves more susceptible to another injury that is usually more catastrophic than the injury before. By utilizing Return to Work testing, it’s an opportunity for all parties, including the worker, to be on board with what’s going on. Actually, more specifically, I have had a firefighter I was working with – I do a lot with the tactical community, personally, but Advanced is everything as a whole – but I had a firefighter come back from a wrist repair that he had sustained. It was a personal injury. And as part of the policy at this particular department we do Return to Work Testing to ensure that they can do the job before we put them back into a burning house where they have to rescue the lives of our community. And so this particular firefighter came in, we did the test, and he’s like, I can’t even… he can’t crawl, he couldn’t crawl, he lacked the wrist extension to be able to crawl on the floor with his SCBA and his other gear on. And he’s like, wow, I didn’t realize I couldn’t do that. And here, we had already gotten the permission from the doctor to do the testing with the intent to clear him the next day. And so that was an opportunity for us to hit the pause button, go back to the physician, have a very educated conversation with him on, hey, this worker, this firefighter is not ready to go back to work. And that firefighter after we went through testing and more testing and rehab, you know, finally gained the confidence to go back into that environment, knowing that he was going to be safe, not only for himself, but for his fellow colleagues and for the community in which he services. So it’s it’s cool, because had we not had testing, he would have been put right back on the line. And he maybe would have figured that out when he was in a burning building trying to rescue somebody. And thank God that wasn’t the case. You know, we had that testing in place to make sure everybody was safe and everybody felt comfortable with what was about to happen next, which was that full clearance back to work.

Curt Kubiak: Yeah, so it’s a great example, an extreme example, right about how you know you’re returning somebody back to a very physical demanding job and make sure that they can function in a way that’s going to keep themselves safe, but also keep their coworkers safe. Because you’re there’s there’s a lot of people depending on that individual when they’re in that situation. But I’d say at the manufacturing setting, it’s similar, right? You you’ve got folks up and downstream from you in the workplace that are depending on you to be able to do your job as it’s been outlined. And so, similarly, you don’t want to put somebody in a position where they can become reinjured. And having the documentation, yes, and then having the medical staff react to that documentation that as data driven, right, that is very well described allows us to then execute at a different level than historically, we would.

Traci Tauferner: And I would say, you know, return to work testing can also work in a very favorable situation.  I think sometimes we like to say, hey, this is gonna keep this worker out longer. Yes, we want them to be safe. Like, I get that I’ve heard my safety people I’ve heard my HR people give me the common Tracy, can’t they come back to work? Well, in other particular scenarios, I was working with a manufacturing company that actually manufacture glass. And we had a particular injured worker that fabricates get injured, went through some rehab with him, did some testing with him. And, as we’re going through this rehab, we’re like, Whoa, you’re ready to come back to work. He’s like, I’m feel ready to come back to work. Hmm. Doc says you got another three weeks to go. Let’s talk to your physician and see what he thinks. And sometimes those scenarios with the physician, there’s a reason why there’s three weeks more to go. Sometimes it’s just the physician saying, Hey, we don’t know, we don’t know. So I had a very intelligent conversation with the physician, he was very open, very receptive to what I was saying. And he cleared that worker back to work the following Monday. So now we’ve just subtracted three weeks off of his return to work plan, that’s three weeks of overtime, that doesn’t need to be paid while someone else is covering that shift. That’s three weeks of short term or long term disability that doesn’t need to be paid, you know, and you’ve got a worker now that’s excited to come back to work. And he’s coming back instead of just sitting at home, continuing to condition himself up. So returned to work testing can be very valuable at pushing people and getting workers back to work sooner. Again, pending they meet all the qualifications and the physician agrees to it. But it has been a very great, I mean, a very valuable tool, I guess, within Advanced that we have utilized to help our companies that we service.

Curt Kubiak: Yeah, great examples, both ways, right? Whether you have to hold somebody out a little bit longer to make sure that they’re ready, or you can actually progress somebody a little quicker, because you’ve got good data. Yes, right. We talked about this. You talked about this at top, you know, if I’m an employer, and I’m looking to understand where do I start looking at your claims data, right, and where are your risks because the claims data are going to speak to you as to where you’ve had the most issues historically and how you can fix those things.

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