NPR: Brain Affects Pain

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Brain_powerPain and chronic pain is a topic that many of our clients experience as a reality every day. This fairly recent National Public Radio report gives more details about what some of the research shows in reference to the brain and pain.

Although the headline in the original article is a flop, as people are often wrongly told “it’s all in your head,” the brain is a really important part of how the body feels, understands, and reacts to pain.

There are some potential lessons to be applied to injured workers, clients with personal-injury cases, and others who are associated with our law firm. However, as is the case with all research, be sure to speak with both your lawyer and medical professionals who know about your situation before making changes to a treatment plan.

“Our perception of pain is shaped by brain circuits that are constantly filtering the information coming from our sensory nerves, says David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book ‘Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind,’” according to the NPR article.

But sometimes those filters work differently than expected, such as when Complex Regional Pain Syndrome affects a client, an issue written about on this blog by firm partner Todd Bennett.

“The brain also determines the emotion we attach to each painful experience, Linden says. That’s possible, he explains, because the brain uses two different systems to process pain information coming from our nerve endings.

“One system determines the pain’s location, intensity and characteristics: stabbing, aching, burning, etc.

“‘And then,’ Linden says, ‘there is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, “Ow! This is terrible.” ’

“Linden says positive emotions — like feeling calm and safe and connected to others — can minimize pain. But negative emotions tend to have the opposite effect,” according to the NPR article.

A study that associate Jon Rehm recently referenced showed how the context of being appreciated at work made a difference to certified nursing assistants who were injured at work.

“… Higher-paid CNAs were injured less frequently than lower-paid CNAs. The study indicated that organizational factors really drove injury rates among CNAs. In other words, in settings where CNAs are truly valued, paid fairly and trained, the injury rates are lower. But if CNAs are treated as low-wage, high-turnover cogs in a machine, then injury rates are higher,” according to his blog post.

Finally, according to the NPR article, there is some evidence that because of how the brain interacts within different parts of itself, “that at least some people can teach their brains how to filter out things like chronic pain, perhaps through meditation,” said Stephanie Jones, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Brown University.

If you have questions about how this information can apply to your situation, please contact an experienced lawyer.

Norfolk, Nebraska, Manufacturer Cited by OSHA with 15 Safety Violations

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Today’s blog post is information that comes from a news release at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Here’s a link to the original news release.

I found this release from earlier in the month interesting because it happened in Nebraska, which is one of the states where the firm’s attorneys are licensed. Also, when I did an internet search on the topic, the only two things that appeared were short mentions in a newspaper article and on a radio station’s website, and I think topics such as this one should get more coverage than that. Finally, I noticed this situation in particular because the investigation was the result of “a formal complaint from an employee alleging unsafe working conditions,” according to the news release.

OSHA proposed penalties of $54,000 after the inspection last August netted 11 serious violations, including various amputation hazards, fire hazards, and fall hazards. The amputation hazards included the business failing “to adequately guard operating parts of machinery,” according to the news release. The company also did not “protect workers from fire, deflagration and explosion hazards because equipment was not approved for hazardous locations,” in addition to the failure of establishing a fire brigade, according to the news release. Also, unguarded stairs and platforms exposed “workers to fall hazards of up to 12 feet.” Finally, four other violations were discovered.

If you have questions about a safety concern at your job, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced attorney and also file a complaint with OSHA at this website. Take care, and be safe.

Why CNAs and Home Health Aides Should Care about the Fight over a Federal Regulation

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090429-A-0868C-005A U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., recently struck down a federal regulation that would mandate that home health aides are paid the minimum wage and paid overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Though the decision will likely be appealed, this decision is still a bad decision for the men and women who do the hardest jobs in health care – home health aides and certified nursing assistants.

Why home health aides aren’t covered by federal wage laws

Home health aides were exempted from the FLSA 40 years ago in order to make caring for the elderly less expensive. However, companion care has become a big and very profitable business. An index of publically traded home-health-care stocks has consistently outperformed the stock market as a whole for the last 13 years. This profitably is due in part to the minimum wage and overtime exemptions for home health aides.

How the home health exception affects other jobs in the medical field

The federal government estimates that nearly 1 million are employed as home health aides, while private sources estimate that number as 2 million. Home health is also a fast-growing field of employment. Home health aides essentially have the same job duties as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). CNAs are generally covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, but workers with the same skills and same duties are exempt from those laws if they are working as home health aides. CNA wages are pushed down by home health aide wages, which are exempt from federal wage laws.

Why pay is about more than wages

A recent study of CNAs showed that nearly 60 percent of CNAs report injuries during a 12-month period. The injury rate is similar for home health aides. The study also showed that higher-paid CNAs were injured less frequently than lower-paid CNAs. The study indicated that organizational factors really drove injury rates among CNAs. In other words, in settings where CNAs are truly valued, paid fairly and trained, the injury rates are lower. But if CNAs are treated as low-wage, high-turnover cogs in a machine, then injury rates are higher. Low pay for CNAs and home health aides isn’t just an issue for employees. Low pay for home health aides and CNAs has been linked to poor patient care.

While the Obama administration has been criticized for being too aggressive in enforcing the FLSA, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that they will delay enforcement of the home health aide regulation until July 2015. This assumes courts will let the Department of Labor actually enforce the regulation. Anyone concerned about this issue should contact their members of Congress to support legislation that ends the home health aide exception. People should also contact their state legislators to support legislation that would ensure that home health aides are covered by state wage and hour laws.

Worker Safety: OSHA Holds Wisconsin Furniture Plant Accountable

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Just wow. The lawyers and employees who write blog posts for rehmlaw.com and truckerlawyers.com focus pretty frequently on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nebraska and Iowa, along with Kansas and Missouri, happen to be in Region 7, so the focus is usually on those news releases from OSHA.

Every workplace safety lapse is one too many, especially when problems come to light because of an incident where a worker is injured or killed. Sometimes a person has to stop and do a double-take as to the specifics, just because the details might seem a little bit more on the extreme or unusual side. Today’s blog post focus of an Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. plant in Wisconsin fits the intense criteria very well, just because of the sheer quantity of injuries and the large fine proposed.

This link from Claims Journal gives more details. The takeaways that just make a person stop are in the numbers listed below.

In less than four years – 42 months:

  • “More than 1,000 work-related injuries”
  • “12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations” from an inspection after a worker lost three fingers in July
  • $1.76 million in fines proposed by OSHA: that’s $1,760,000!
  • The company was “placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failing to address safety hazards,” according to the Claims Journal article.

Although “Ashley Furniture said less than 1-in-4 of the cases required any time away from work … (and) the most common injury was muscle strains and sprains,” that is still a large number of incidents to consider. The article also contained this quote: “‘At Ashley, each employee’s safety and well-being is an absolute priority,’ said Steve Ziegeweid, Ashley Furniture’s director of health and safety.”

But most workers’ compensation lawyers would tend to side with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, as quoted from a news release: “Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price.”

ACA Sign-up Deadline Set for Sunday

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healthcaregov.pngSunday, Feb. 15, is the 2015 deadline to enroll for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s process. The information that’s out there can be pretty overwhelming, and sometimes websites don’t work, especially when enrollment is time sensitive, as it now is. For procrastinators, here are some good places to start, hopefully help to beat the deadline, and most importantly, enroll in insurance coverage.

A good starting place is the healthcare.gov website. Be sure to use the .gov, as other places (.com, .net, etc.) aren’t actually the insurance exchange and at worst, can be scams. From there, if things get confusing, as insurance often does, another option is to call 800-318-2596 for help, according to healthcare.gov. Or, by clicking on “Find local help” and providing a zip code, there are more direct ways to get ahold of someone and ask questions.

The site itself answers such questions as what kind of coverage a person qualifies for when the marketplace application is filled out. Unfortunately, Nebraska is one of the states that has chosen to not expand Medicaid, so clicking on the link about what Medicaid expansion means will help explain how this affect people. However, many folks are qualifying for subsidies, which are automatically applied to specific plans, often the silver level, and help people afford more comprehensive coverage, with the subsidies based on income.

Why should a person go to the effort? Because there are actually financial and societal benefits to having health insurance, especially if something happens and a person has medical needs. That being said, the ACA coverage is not meant to take the place of employer-sponsored coverage for sick workers.

As has been mentioned before in this blog, folks having health insurance coverage benefits more than just the individual.

“You’ll be pulling your weight. Americans pick up the costs of caring for uninsured patients in the form of higher insurance premiums, higher taxes and more expensive care,” according to an editorial around this time last year in the Kansas City Star newspaper.

In addition to the benefits of having health insurance, there is a greater penalty for not enrolling this year than there was last year, according to healthcare.gov. “If you don’t have health coverage during 2015, you may have to pay a penalty. The fee in 2015 is higher than it was for 2014 – 2 percent of your income or $325 per adult/$162.50 per child, whichever is more.”

Just as it’s important for employers to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage, individuals – and their families – should have health insurance to try to plan for the unknown.

Sick Leave Should Be Accessible to All

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Amid the debate about flu and immunizations and preventable diseases lurks a societal problem that’s getting more attention lately and directly affects the spread of those medical crises: paid sick leave for employees.

Although discussing the consequences of Ebola may be interesting, many people in the United States, including Nebraska and Iowa, are living with the consequences of pertussis (whooping cough), a rampant flu season, and measles outbreaks.

This blog has featured this subject in the past, almost exactly two years ago, when there was a flu epidemic. It was argued then, in one of the firm’s more popular blog posts, that sick people should not be forced to work and spread their germs to their co-workers and customers, in addition that working while sick tends to make people even more ill. Not having sick leave available to take becomes a public health and societal risk. In addition, not being able to provide care for sick children or loved ones results in family struggles and workers worrying, rightfully so, while they should be focused on work at work.

The issue is also affecting children, especially those who are low-income, according to the 2014 Kids Count Report in Nebraska.

A recent Marketplace Morning Report article highlighted the need for policy change through the Healthy Families Act “that would guarantee workers could earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.” For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is quoted in the story that “24 percent” of those in the restaurant industry and “47 percent of retail workers get paid sick leave.” It also shares the economic burden of the results of people who don’t get paid sick leave coming to work sick. “Underperforming at work, or even damaging equipment or products because of diminished capacity or the effects of medication is known as ‘presenteeism.’” Sickness and presenteeism costs more than $375 billion a year, according to the article.

Esther Cepeda also recently addressed both paid sick leave and presenteeism in a column: “Working while sick even when you can have the time off is a thing. Many workers take great pride in coming to work ill, and there are a fair number of their colleagues who wish they’d stop.”

Although it may be a pretty big challenge in some industries to provide paid sick time, Ms. Cepeda argues that those are the most important industries to have it, as was also argued in the firm’s flu blog post from 2013.

“Food service aside, there are any number of jobs – most of them low-wage, part-time service jobs – where you don’t want the worker to be miserably sick or mentally checked out, worried about their sick loved one, because they can’t afford to call off work and lose the pay or possibly the job.”

Also important to note, being “checked out” can lead to safety incidents and workers’ compensation claims, and having employees mired in presenteeism just isn’t good for anyone.

So as the article in this link mentions, I think it’s very important for both workers and employers to consider the importance of quality of life considerations: keeping healthy people from being exposed to sickness and supporting sick people (or people with sick loved ones) by giving them the chance to stay home and still get paid so they can focus on becoming healthy people again.

Because as Ms. Cepeda argues, it benefits all for people to be as healthy as possible.

“Those of us who have the choice or flexibility to take an available sick day must speak up for those who are penalized for life’s inevitable speed bumps. It’s ultimately in our own best interest.”

Will Protects Children, Assets, and Helps Prepare for the Unexpected

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last will and testamentOccasionally I write about topics that I think are of use to readers of the firm’s blog. Today’s focus is on a blog post that lawyer Andrew Hoffman wrote about preparing for the unexpected by writing a will.

The blog post was written to promote a new start in 2015 by reflecting on the importance of estate planning. Although estate planning is not a topic that many folks enjoy discussing, I wanted to encourage you to read this blog post from Krotter Hoffman PC, LLO, a law firm in northeast Nebraska. One of the best quotes in the blog post is this one: “The people that can least afford a will (they think), are actually the same people that need it the most – parents of young children.”

Please make the time for a will, even if you don’t think you have much to pass on to loved ones. Because, as Mr. Hoffman goes on to explain, if a person doesn’t have a will, then a judge will decide who takes care of your minor children. And whatever assets you have will also go to those minor children the moment each turns 19, regardless of their ability to manage those funds, which may include life insurance proceeds.

This information is also helpful to workers’ compensation clients or anyone who has received a lump sum settlement to plan for what happens to that money if something happens to you. Please follow up with an attorney to write your will, be safe, and take care.

Here’s a link to the original blog post:

http://www.krotterhoffman.com/#!A-New-Years-Resolution-Worth-Keeping/cutx/DC0CE14C-2B60-4E65-80F6-82C6560E60F5 titled: A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping.

Partner Todd Bennett Speaks at Paralegals’ Meeting

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Todd D. Bennett

Firm partner Todd Bennett was recently the speaker for the quarterly meeting of the District 2 Nebraska Paralegals (NePA) group. It is helpful for attorneys to share legal knowledge through presenting at professional development opportunities for those associated with the legal community.

Mr. Bennett gave an overview of workers’ compensation while focusing on “how paralegals can work to be more effective with workers’ compensation attorneys,” he said.

I regularly encourage the firm’s attorneys and staff to participate in continuing education and networking opportunities through professional associations and other occasions, taking the opportunity to serve as both presenters and lifelong learners.

Thank you to Mr. Bennett for representing the firm as a presenter to this group.

Thanks also go to the District 2 NePA for both hosting Mr. Bennett and for making a donation to the charity of his choice, in lieu of any payment for services, to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), in honor of his mother who is blind and a life-long sufferer of diabetes.

Find out more information about the NePA at their website: http://nebraskaparalegal.org/