Optum Workers’ Comp comes through with flying colors for Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines

When client Southwest Airlines reached out with an urgent request for nurses and medical supplies to help them avoid a catastrophic shutdown at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the Optum Workers’ Comp and Auto No-fault (OWCA) ancillary team stepped up to the challenge. Read more to learn about the outstanding efforts put forth by OWCA associates.

In early March, as concern over COVID-19 was beginning to escalate, Optum Workers’ Comp and Auto No-fault (OWCA) National Accounts Director Penny Baker got an urgent call from client Southwest Airlines (SWA) pleading for assistance getting thermometers, gloves, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, masks and — most importantly — 24-hour, round-the-clock nursing assistance so that all staff who move through their critical operations centers could be medically screened before entering.

Penny BakerPenny Baker, OWCA National Accounts Director

SWA said it would be catastrophic if their network operations center (NOC) in Dallas would have to be shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak there — the NOC keeps the planes in the air. It houses dispatchers and weather forecasting meteorologists, as well as representatives from every operating group in the company, and must stay up and running 24/7. They could not risk COVID-19 infecting the NOC.

To intensify the situation, SWA stressed that if the emergency plan for medical supplies and nurses was not put into place within four hours, their operations could shut down.

Kim GirardKim Girard, Ancillary Services Supervisor in the OWCA Tampa office

Ancillary team to the rescue

Penny tapped the expertise of Kim Girard, ancillary services supervisor in the OWCA Tampa office, for help in fulfilling SWA’s urgent need. Accomplishing this request was a huge challenge because vendors and suppliers were having a hard time keeping up with the demand.

“My team worked very hard trying to source everything so that we could to get it to Southwest. We had to spend a lot of time not only sourcing our own vendors, but going outside of our contracted vendors,” said Kim.

“Typically, we source mostly for our workers’ comp patients, never for businesses. So, pulling this together not only for the NOC, but also eight other SWA locations, and having to provide nursing staff and do it in a matter of hours — it was a scramble to say the least. I think we did pretty good considering some of the locations they have are in places where we don’t have a lot of contracted vendors. So, it was a lot of manpower, utilizing everything we could to get that into play.”

Kim and her team also took advantage of OWCA’s business accounts with Amazon and Walmart to drop-ship supplies right to SWA’s operations centers. “Our contracted vendors allocate a lot of their products for our patients and for hospitals, so we had to do some dancing to get items to Southwest,” added Kim.

OWCA’s Penny and Kim go the extra mile

Penny and Kim made themselves available 24/7 to make sure that all nurses showed up to SWA’s various operations centers and that no issues occurred.

There was a lot of coordinating. We had to get clearance for every nurse to be able to enter the various SWA locations. Information was going back and forth. And we had to make sure we had the schedules set up for who would be going where and that they could get into these buildings and be able to start their shift,” said Penny.

Kim and I were getting calls all hours of the day and night. And Southwest’s CEO and a senior VP were reaching out to us through my SWA contact, the workers’ comp manager, to amplify the urgency of their needs,” added Penny. “I’m so proud that we could step up and help get them what they needed. I feel it’s our responsibility as a good partner to be there, whether it’s on-hours or off-hours.”

Southwest Airlines praises the OWCA team’s response

Even SWA’s workers’ comp manager, Patti Colwell, thought their request could be difficult to achieve due to the reports of nursing and supplies shortages. But she wasn’t shocked that OWCA could deliver.

“I think others in our organization were shocked that we could get it up and running so quickly. They were concerned about consistency and whether people would no-show. And we had no issues. We have had some of the loveliest nurses I’ve ever met in my life,” said Patti. “We were one of the first ones in the industry to get it started. And, in fact, other carriers were calling me saying, ‘How did you get that done? How did that happen?’”

Patti said OWCA has consistently provided SWA with outstanding customer service through the years. “That is our track record with Optum. I mean, we have had some pretty challenging workers’ comp cases in the past where we needed some special handling with home health care or durable medical equipment. And you all have always been right there ready to do whatever you needed to do to get it done for us. And we don’t forget that,” added Patti.

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