Health-care costs worry commissioners

Surge in worker’s comp claims cited

By Bob Shiles -

Roger Oxendine

RALEIGH — Commissioner Roger Oxendine on Saturday warned fellow commissioners and county administrative staff that there is going to be a significant increase in employee health insurance during the next fiscal year that begins July 1.

Oxendine, who chairs the county’s Personnel Committee, said that expensive workman’s compensation claims are running the county into a hole.

“We’ve got to do something to bring this under control or start our people paying for their health insurance, and that’s something we don’t want to do,” he said. “We escaped (insurance increases) the past three years, but now it is going to catch up with us.”

Oxendine made his comments on the last day of the county’s annual three-day retreat held at the Hyatt House in the North Hills area of Raleigh. His concerns were voiced during a presentation by Angela Jones, the county’s Human Resources director.

In her report to the board, Jones said that this year’s budget for health insurance will jump from $10.6 million to $13.9 million. She said that quotes for health plans had been requested from several companies, and the only one that provided a quote was Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

“Everyone declined to give a quote except for Blue Cross,” said Jones. “The reason was because of our number of high cost claims, such as for heart, kidney and cancer conditions. Also taken into consideration was the number of our workman’s compensation cases.”

Oxendine said that people have to have a “change in mindset” about health care.

“They need to be aware of what is a healthy lifestyle and what makes up a healthy work environment,” he said.

Commissioner David Edge said it might take a hard approach to get some employees to exercise safety on the job.

“The only way we are going to get their attention is to hit them in the pocket,” Edge said. “If we add $100 to each bill, I bet we see our money come back double.”

Oxendine emphasized that there are health conditions that can’t be helped, and said he “understands” that. What concerns him, he said, is the number of workman’s compensation claims that may be resulting from careless safety practices.

Jones said that educational efforts are under way to ensure that department heads, supervisors and mainline employees are aware and understand safety regulations and procedures.

Oxendine is calling for all work-related accidents to be tracked to determine if they could have been avoided.

“This all needs to be documented,” he said.

Jones said that education and training is the key to bringing down the number of workman compensation claims.

“It all goes back to training,” she said.

In addition to Jones, presentations were also made to the commissioners by Patrick Cummings, interim department director for Emergency Medical Services; Patrick Pait, county attorney; Kellie Blue, Interim General Services Manager/Finance director; and Emily Jones, who is serving as the county’s Public Information officer. Also, Assistant County Manager Jason King, and County Manager Ricky Harris, made closing remarks.

“This retreat has been quite productive,” Harris said. “Nothing can’t be accomplished if we have the funds available. We have a tight budget but know what you want and will try to make it happen.”

Harris said he wants to start hiring individuals to replace five county department heads who retired at the end of December.

“I believe that new directors can be a benefit to the county,” he said. “New faces can bring new ideas.”

Commissioner Berlester Campbell reminded the manager that all county positions to be filled should be advertised.

“You can find good applicants who are not from Robeson County,” he said. “Someone shouldn’t be hired just because they are a friend of someone … . I think the manager down to the housekeeper should be evaluated each year. If they are not doing the job and coming to work, we need to get rid of them.”

Roger Oxendine Oxendine
Surge in worker’s comp claims cited

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

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