NOVO Live: The Podcast

Episode 7: Treating the Whole Person

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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: Hello! I’m Kurt Kubiak, the CEO of NOVO Health and your host for NOVO Live – The Podcast, bringing to you with the second part of a conversation that we had with Traci Tauferner from Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, about how to treat employees on the job. In the first half, you learned more about the physical attributes of managing your employees. And in this aspect, we’re going to learn a little bit more about how to treat that whole employee. Things that they’re dealing with, on the mental side, the behavioral side. And so I hope you enjoy the second part, as much as you enjoyed the first part. And let’s keep the conversation going.

Curt Kubiak: So, Traci, you talked to at the very opening, you know, in terms of your role, and some of the things that you’re thinking about, and you talked about a very holistic way of managing the employee that it wasn’t just physical, but there was also an emotional component to it a mental component to it. Can you talk to me a little bit about that, because it doesn’t necessarily come easily to us that are, you know, not involved every day in rehabbing a worker, but there’s a mental component to being away from your job and being inactive. Right? And so how does that play into my physical return to work? And what should you know, employers be thinking about? And how could employees, you know, better manage their time?

Traci Tauferner: Wow, that’s a that’s a big question there. Curt. Let me see if I can answer it for you. And so usually, when a worker gets injured, you know, it’s one more thing on their plate. OK? And I tell a lot of the workers that we work with, and a lot of our staff tell the workers, that we’re always spinning plates, OK? You’re spinning the plan with the family plate, you know, you’re spinning the children – if you have one – you’re spinning those personal things that you like to do. You’re spinning the workplace, you’re spinning the financial plate and whatever those plates may look like for you. And, now you’re spinning the plates, but one of those plates have kind of fallen. OK, what are you going to do, you’ve got all these other things that you need to take care of your family, your personal thing, you’re just feeling good about the work that you’re doing. And so from the mental emotional part of a work recovery type situation, I think we don’t address that as much as we could be. Identifying very quickly whether a worker is highly motivated, unmotivated – we never want to assume you know, the ugly term that a worker is malingering in that particular place –  but maybe they’re just unmotivated because they don’t know how to spin the other plates. Thankfully, a lot of workers out there that get injured, they have the support within their family and they have the support within their organization. But if they don’t, let’s help them establish that, utilizing onsite services or utilizing an external health care provider, you know, that is maybe not your workers comp system. Again, somebody that can look at it from a different point of view may be able to help you spin the plate for that worker to get their emotional and, I guess, mental health back into a situation where they feel more comfortable about returning to work. You can certainly use things like testing to give that confidence and to address that. But, if you have got a worker that is going down, you know, maybe a downward spiral, as I like to call it, tapping into services like EAP, having them meet with their pastor, or chaplain, or whoever that particular person may be, even reaching out to their spouse, sometimes just to say, “Hey, I’m checking in on Joe,” you know. Certainly with permission from the patient, but, you know, maybe you’re checking in on, you know, again, Joe, for an example, and saying, “Hey, how are your things going, OK?” We’re realizing, you know, that on site rehab is not going as well. Or, you know, he’s not as motivated or is not doing his exercises. What are some things that we can do to re-engage him from that perspective? I think that it’s really great within an organization, if a company can offer light duty, light duty as a way to get them out of the house, where they’re not sitting there and dwelling and sitting on the couch. And, you know, they’re now in an environment where they’re around their colleagues or their fellow coworkers, and they’re feeling more comfortable, and they’re getting excited about coming to work and, you know, helping out in whatever way that they can. I will tell you, most people that I’ve met, that are injured workers, they want to be in that position. They want to come back to work. They like what they’re doing, they have a very high sense of pride, especially in the manufacturing world, for the product that they’re producing out there. And they want to get back to it. So addressing, you know, looking at light duty as an option, looking at return to work testing as an option, looking at utilizing EAP are all options. And then again, having an external voice is sometimes helpful to maybe speak up when that employee is not going to speak up because they don’t know what to do, or again, they don’t know how to address the complicated system of workers comp out there.

Curt Kubiak: So what could you know, what could appear to us, you know, casually observing, as somebody that doesn’t want to return to work could actually be a lot more complicated. This person may actually be excited to return to work, but really has all these other things weighing on them that they’ve kind of got to clear up before they feel like they can physically get back in and get active. For our listeners, when we talk about light duty, this would be this would be jobs that are valuable to the employer, but don’t necessarily involve that employee’s exact job description, right? So if the if a person’s got a very physical job, but could, for example, you know, be reviewing policies and procedures, help out with other administrative clerical type work, am I getting that right?

Traci Tauferner: Normally in the organization it’s not our responsibility as the athletic trainer or physical therapist on site to help I identify that. But we often get dragged into assisting safety or HR to find things for them to do from a light duty standpoint. So some examples of programs that are out there is reviewing policies and procedures, cleaning up a particular supply closet, addressing education. So education can take many different levels. I was in an organization recently, where they had a worker just working on some continuing education that is a requirement that they need to do to keep their license. Also, doing things like light house cleaning – as long as it falls within the restrictions. The old age of light duty as shredding documents in a corner, I think we’re kind of past that nowadays. I have seen some employers actually go to the role of “OK, if we’re able to, and is within your restrictions,” actually putting their workers in community service type projects. So, volunteering at a local shelter or a local food pantry or, again, light duty cleaning up a park or something like that are some other areas of transitional light duty that I have seen some of the workers do.

Curt Kubiak: So employers are getting a little bit creative about how do I get this employee re-engaged, get them active and involved, so that they’re adding value, but not necessarily doing something that’s very traditionally thought of as their exact job description? So when we think about this, from a provider’s perspective, it’s not always understood that this relationship between provider and employer can be value added to both sides. A lot of a lot of physician groups feel like, “Yes, I can treat your employee but I don’t know how the employer is necessarily going to, you know, benefit from the work that I do. I’m really working on behalf of the employee.” Can you talk a little bit about some of the employers that are working with, you know, the services that Advanced offers and just physical therapy and training in strength and conditioning overall? How do you develop a relationship with an employer and what are the important attributes to that?

Traci Tauferner: So, I would say from that perspective, the relationship is really, really valuable. And it starts in the beginning with the analysis. We get very fortunate enough to have a lot of providers that are part of NOVO Health that understand what we’re trying to accomplish here, and trying to bring that NFL model to, you know, the forefront basically. When it comes to the services that are provided – anything from, you know, the athletic training or the injury prevention, or the strength and conditioning –  kind of starts from the perspective of a model that I use very frequently, which is, OK, you have a worker is do the most basic service of you know, an injury or pain. Hey, we have a worker that has pain. OK? If you think about again, NFL athlete, OK, Aaron Rodgers has pain can he play? Can he play through that pain? Sure. Right. Can he pay play through that pain forever? Probably not. OK. So, that’s kind of what we do with our workers, is we come in and say, OK, you’ve got pain. OK, so if you walked in my office, Curt, “hey, I’ve got this shoulder pain going on.” Alright, let’s address that. What is it? So, we evaluate it and we realize, hey, it’s not something, you know, super serious, it’s not surgical. But a couple of exercises, a little bit of stretching, maybe a little modalities and we’re going to have that shoulder back like new and no time. From the company’s perspective, it shouldn’t matter whether that injury is work-related or personal-related. The point is, is that your worker has pain, and he’s working. And at some point in time, that pain is going to be an issue. So let’s bring it all the way back and evaluate that pain, figure out where it’s coming from, and get it taken care of. From the provider standpoint, you know, having access to the physicians has been huge, and we are so lucky to have so many physicians on board with what we’re doing. They’ll see our injured workers within 24 hours, you know, we’re getting them into the right people right away. If you’re not familiar with the typical health care system, you know, it’s complicated. So a worker gets injured, he goes to the ER or the urgent care, typically, then he gets referred to primary care, and then, then, he gets to see maybe the specialists, OK. That takes a lot of time. OK. From the usually from the initial evaluation at the ER to the time that they see the orthopedic – so again, we deal with more sprains and strains – but by the time they see that orthopedic, it can be six to eight weeks. That is too long. That means for six to eight weeks, they’re sitting at home, in front of the TV doing nothing. No reactive care, no preventative care, no strength, no conditioning, nothing like that. So by having an advocate – doesn’t necessarily have to be on site 40 hours a week – I think that’s where a lot of companies get scared of, “Hey, this is a big investment. I can’t afford an athletic trainer or a physical therapist 40 hours a week at my company.” You’re right, that might not work for you. But there is a smaller chunk of an investment that you can make into one or two hours a week or, again, leverage a relationship with a company within your area. I know this isn’t nationally, to say, hey, if we have an injured worker, we’re going to bring them to you for that initial eval. And, then what types of things can you do for us to shorten that timeline? And, so again, talking about, you know, Curt comes in, he’s got an injured shoulder, we dress the pain doesn’t matter whether it’s work or personal related, we’re taking care of it. We’re given a couple exercises. But, if we don’t, hey, we’ve got that provider that now we can reach out to skip the ER, skip the primary care, go right to the orthopedic and get it evaluated appropriately, and then go down that timeline. That alone has saved a large amount of our companies and a large amount of our workers 6,7,8-12 weeks of time.  That’s a lot of money, a lot of money within the organization.

Curt Kubiak: As we talked about, you know, the individuals to. I know that I’m getting my pain addressed sooner, I know that I’m going to be feeling better about myself earlier, and I can get myself back to work sooner. And it’s one thing for an individual employee to do that on their own, which does happen on occasion. But it’s quite another one, the employee feels like, gosh, my employer has set up a situation for me, where I can cut through all the clutter, and my employer is helping me to get to where I need to be it almost feels like you know, a VIP program. I’m being treated like Aaron Rodgers. As a worker. But from an employer’s perspective, I think that’s something they’ve got to be thinking about. Think with the end in mind. This isn’t necessarily, you know, to any specific person that comes to mind. But it’s an overall mindset, that you’re trying to keep your employees healthy, well, on the job and you can’t predict injuries.  Whether they occur on the job or away from the job. But if you’ve got a program and a plan, as you described, it seems to me, Traci, like you’re setting yourself up for success, and it’s well worth the time of preparation.

Traci Tauferner: I would agree. Right now in our society, it’s crazy. Retention is a problem. OK, there is the next company down the road offering a $2,000 bonus, with a $3 an hour pay increase. How are you going to keep that worker? Sometimes going back to the hometown feel, doing the right thing, is going to keep that worker maybe at your worksite because you’ve kept them healthy and you’ve addressed their pain and you’ve provided them access to resources that they maybe wouldn’t have had access to. One of the coolest things about being an onsite athletic trainer is having a worker come in at a new company – I just got established at a new company up in Shawano – and walking in and employee comes through the first days, like, “I’m supposed to come see you.” And I’m like, OK, what’s, what’s going on? “I got this shoulder thing.” OK, cool. How did it happen? “Not sure.” OK. If not sure, how long has it been bothering you? “Well, a while” OK, what’s a while? “Two years.” For two years this particular employee had a shoulder that he couldn’t reach above his head. He couldn’t grab the can on the top shelf in his kitchen cupboard for two years. And I said, why didn’t you ever get this looked at? Usually the answer I get – and in this particular case, I did – “I thought it would get better on its own, and I can’t afford to get it looked at, I don’t have the time, or I don’t have the money.” You are now providing this employee, this worker, with the time and the resource to get it evaluated. It is just crazy in my head to think that for two years, they’ve been working through the pain. They’ve been dealing with it. And thankfully enough, this particular worker, we were able to get that injury figured out right away, and it’s a couple of exercises and a little bit of stretching. He’s got a long road, but it’s not going to be surgical. It’s unlikely it’s going to be surgical. Excellent. But what if it was, you know? And again, he’s walking on it like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. So I think that, again, resources, it’s all about the resources. It doesn’t have to be 40 hours a week. It doesn’t have to be even one-hour week of onsite. But just making that connection with providers within your community, and saying, “hey, I want to do something for my workers, I want to address it, if they’re in pain, or they’re having trouble doing something at work. I want to know that I have you to send them to so that I know that they’re going to be taken care of. And that’s going to be looked at, it’s a very responsible thing to do.” It’s doing the right thing, as we always say.

Curt Kubiak: You know, it appears to me that the way you’re describing your interactions with these employees, that they really do view you as an advocate, right? they view you as another resource that they can use. I know sometimes people are fearful that, gosh, if my employer is asking me to go to this individual, that it’s really in their best interest, not in my best interest. But you all take that to heart. When you think about how you talk and engage with that employee, let them know, no, this is really about you.

Traci Tauferner: It is really about them and taking care of them and their families and keeping them working. Because we don’t have a lot of workers that want to do a lot of the jobs that we need workers for, unfortunately. So how are we going to keep our current workers working? How are we going to keep them healthy? And though I love a good stretching program, it doesn’t do the job, you need more, OK? That’s not going to address the pain at the end of the day. It’s going to address the tightness and maybe get to the preventative world, but it’s not going to address that base level pain that they may be experiencing.

Curt Kubiak: At NOVO Health, we talk a lot about access to affordable health care. Access to, you know, high-quality, affordable health care. And it sounds to me, you know, what you’re advocating for, is a way for employers to get access to folks that want to work on their behalf, that want to work on their employee’s behalf, and actually enhance that relationship with their employee, and possibly even save the employer some money, save the employees some money. Make sense all around. Is that what I’m hearing?

Traci Tauferner: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s just looking at it from a different perspective. We always used to look at injuries in the worker’s world as the worker’s responsibility. And yes, there is some responsibility there. But why can’t we look at as a joint responsibility, or even just from a different light where all parties are working together for the same goal. The worker wants to work; the employer needs the worker to work. So why can’t we work together to keep all those areas of each injury, I guess. or each paying perspective, and everybody happy at the same point in time?

Curt Kubiak: We all have aligned incentives. So whether I’m the employee, the employer, the provider, we’ve all got the same end in mind. Right? But you do have to design a program specific to that, it doesn’t just happen, right? that you get all of those folks thinking and acting the same and in alignment, right? You really do have to think proactively, and you’ve taught me that, you know, today. Hopefully, our audience is paying attention to that. I really appreciate you being on the show, to share your perspective, because it’s very unique with regard to, you know, how can we prevent injury from happening in the first place, and the resources that you make available. If somebody is interested in learning a little bit more about the programs that you offer Traci, what’s the best way for them to get a hold of you?

Traci Tauferner: Well, I guess best way to get a hold of myself – I’m Traci Tauferner, I’m the director of industrial medicine and wellness at Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. You can check us out online, Facebook, Instagram, web, whatever works best for you.

Curt Kubiak: That sounds excellent. I really appreciate your time today and hopefully our listeners take advantage of that you’re an excellent resource for them. And you can reach us NOVO Live at our website, social media, any of the traditional ways that you’ve gotten a hold of us. Until next time, let’s keep the conversation going.

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