Family brought risk management & safety’s Michele Washington to the desert. Originally from Ohio, she and her siblings came together from around the country to make Las Vegas their forever home. She knows how essential a supportive environment is and luckily for UNLV, she’s around to provide that to employees who need to file workers’ compensation claims.
Her goal is to help people recover. From the time they are injured to their first day back on the job, she makes sure people can navigate a complex system of filing paperwork, finding health care providers for their injuries, and getting back on their feet once they receive the specialized care they need.
How long have you lived in Las Vegas?
I’ve lived in Las Vegas for almost 24 years. My brother lived here after completing duty on Nellis Air Force Base and loved it so much he pitched me and my older sister on the idea of moving here. I had only been to the city once at that point but I planned, researched, and thought about it for over a year before my daughters and I made the move. Coming from the frozen expanse of Ohio, I purposely chose to move in the summer to get acclimated to the heat. It didn’t take long. My rearview mirror melted on our second day in Vegas!
What brought you to UNLV?
I used to work at Southwest Airlines. While I really liked the company, I wanted to move forward in my career. To do that at Southwest Airlines, I would have had to move, which I didn’t want to do because I loved Vegas. UNLV had an opening for a perfect job in my field, workers’ compensation, right when I was looking to move. Sometimes things fall into place at just the right time. I’ve been working here 15 years.
What is workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation is a mandatory program that provides for employees who get injured while they’re working. This benefit is available for every employee injury and encompasses people working from home and tripping over their laptop cord to those who fall off a scissor lift on campus. The goal of workers’ compensation programs is to ensure employees receive proper medical treatment and that the workplace fixes the hazard that caused the injury in the first place.
Tell us about your role here.
I am a claims administration coordinator with the workers’ compensation program for UNLV, Nevada State College, and College of Southern Nevada. I talk to employees after they are injured on the job to help them navigate the process of filing a claim, getting care, and ensuring the hazard is fixed before they return to work. Workers’ compensation is a heavily regulated area, so I also verify both the university and the employee are meeting their respective responsibilities in the appropriate timeframe.
How does workers’ compensation work at UNLV?
NSHE is self-insured so we pay out all of our own workers’ compensation claims. We contract with a third-party administrator to coordinate and process claims. I don’t actually evaluate and approve claims. Instead, I am the employee liaison. I help people complete the process, explain treatment options, and help them navigate any problems they may encounter. The separation of my role and the third-party administrator is essential because it helps me take better care of our employees. People feel like they can be more honest with me about their injury and the care they need because I am not the one who evaluates their claim. In return, I’m honest with them and help demystify the process.
What is the biggest misconception about workers’ compensation?
There is a lot of misinformation out there about workers’ compensation claims that gave the industry a bad reputation for a long time. The most common myths I hear are that somebody is “faking” their injury to make money or get off work, or that if they are truly injured, that the individual is receiving substandard medical care.
Part of why my role at the university is so crucial is that I provide employees with correct information. For instance, there are no “pain and suffering” payments for workers’ compensation. There are provisions for permanent impairment, but that depends on multiple factors and doesn’t provide compensation for emotional distress or suffering. So nobody could feasibly make money by filing a worker’s compensation claim. These myths are bad because they keep people from getting care because they believe filing a claim is shameful or fraudulent. By dispelling these myths, I help employees find practical solutions that work for them.
What do you like about your job?
Risk management never gets boring. I like meeting so many different kinds of people. I work with classified staff, professors, and administrative faculty. Even though I’m not necessarily meeting people at their best, I find meaning in helping them through the workers’ compensation process. I know it’s a job well done when a healthy employee returns to a safe workplace.
What do you do in your free time?
While my daughters are grown (two are UNLV graduates!) and COVID-19 has kept me from spending too much time with my siblings, my dogs have become my babies now. Aries is a Maltese poodle mix and Aria is a Maltese poodle-shitzu mix. Aria is bossy, six pounds, and pretty much runs things while Aries follows me around the house constantly. I think there may be some separation anxiety when I return to the office full-time.
When I’m not spoiling my dogs, I love to bake. Especially during the holidays. When my daughters were young, flour got everywhere when we made dozens of Christmas cookies. As I got older, baking didn’t fit my health plan: I love chocolate chip cookies but they love me too, especially my hips. However, every year at Christmas I’m still good for a turtle cake and a pound cake and anything else sweet to share with my family and friends.