Inside Risk: Marie Johnson, Elwyn

Elwyn's Director of Risk Management & Purchasing shares how she works to continue the nonprofit's legacy of excellence and service.

October 29, 2015 Photo

Elwyn is one of the nation’s oldest private nonprofit organizations servicing people with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral challenges. It is a multistate organization that assists children, adults, and their families at campus locations, community sites, local schools, workplaces, and in individual homes.  Find out how CLM Fellow Marie Johnson translates that mission into her day-to-day work.

Q. How did you come to work in risk management?

A. My first job in risk management was working in the risk management department for what was, at the time, the second-largest trucking company in the nation. The vice president of risk management for whom I worked was very knowledgeable in addressing risk and handling losses, which gave me the opportunity to get valuable experience. I then worked for an insurance broker for some time, but when Elwyn’s risk manager retired, I decided that I was ready to get back into risk management for a large company.

Q. What’s your approach to risk management?

A. I use as my foundation the basic risk management principles taught by the industry experts: identify the exposures and risk; get a full picture of the exposure and why or how we have this exposure; evaluate options to address the exposure; and work with our various programs to address the exposure. For every situation, I make sure that I take the time to completely understand all of the facts and circumstances, which allows me to make a well informed decision. Due to the type of individuals we serve, the wide range of programs, the various work environments, and regulatory agencies in which we are involved, it is important to carefully evaluate each risk.  

Q. Do you employ enterprise risk management strategies?

A. Elwyn is always evaluating our practices, procedures, and buildings to identify risks and ways to improve our services. We conduct internal risk assessments prior to our annual license surveys and inspections. I meet with department heads when we start exploring new programs to develop or acquire, which allows us to evaluate the benefits versus the risks as a team. If we need to avoid an opportunity due to the exposure, I always provide an explanation. 

Q. Describe some of the risks you manage.  

All of the individuals we serve have an intellectual disability; many are medically fragile, as well. Caring for these individuals 24/7 can be physically demanding on our employees, which means workers’ compensation is one of our largest exposures. An equally large exposure is the safety of those whom we serve because it is a responsibility that requires constant attention. At a minimum, we run extensive background checks on all employees, volunteers, and independent contractors.    

Q. Have you ever taken a risk and turned it into an opportunity?   

A. Since Elwyn is a nonprofit, we always are looking for fun and unique fundraisers to attract new donors. My first reaction to a new fundraising suggestion is often “no,” but before I actually say that, I make sure that I know all of the facts about the event. Then I determine what rules, safeguards, contracts, and other things need to be in place so that we can hold the fundraiser without incurring unnecessary risk. For instance, we held a motorcycle ride to raise awareness and generate donations, which was a success—but only after spending numerous hours with counsel to make sure all agreements and releases were in order.  

Q. What kinds of claims do you typically encounter?

A. In addition to the previously mentioned workers’ compensation claims, we also receive claims for auto, professional, and due process. Auto claims can be our most expensive because of the number of claims that can come out of one accident. For instance, one auto accident can generate two workers’ compensation claims, auto physical damage, auto liability (bodily and property damage), and injury to a resident riding in the vehicle. 

Q. How many claims professionals work with you?

A. Our workers’ compensation claims are handled by a TPA, with which we have developed a strong relationship working as a team to get all employees paid benefits without delays. We have one full-time person who handles workers’ compensation and maintains the OSHA logs. She also is responsible for getting all injured workers in for treatment and post-accident drug/alcohol testing as well as monitoring our modified duty program. Auto claims are handled by our fleet manager under my guidance, and I manage all other claims with our TPA and carriers.

Q. Can you discuss a unique claims experience?     

A. We provide a wide variety of services to over 12,000 individuals in heavily populated areas, so many of our claims are unique. Last summer, nine inches of rain fell in one day, flooding five of our group homes. Handling the flood claim, relocating our residents, getting the properties repaired, and dealing with FEMA was not really unique, but it was challenging!    

About The Authors
Eric Gilkey

Eric Gilkey is vice president of content at the CLM, and serves as executive editor of CLM magazine, the flagship publication of the CLM.

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