The Illinois Work Injury Resource Center (IWIRC) doors opened in November 2003, according to IWIRC Vice President Michael Davis, but the concept for the facility began about two years earlier. "Pete Duvendack, IWIRC's president, and I were asked by multiple business owners and others in the industry if there was an opportunity for the tri-county area to offer an independent alternative for occupational medicine and industrial rehabilitation. After months of marketing research, we found that there existed-and still exists-overwhelming support for such an endeavor," he said.

IWIRC, with a new facility in the former Sealtest Building at State and Washington streets, offers the full continuum of pre-employment and post accident/injury services, Davis said. "From post-offer physicals, drug screening, and medical surveillance to acute injury care/management and independent rehabilitative care, there are few employment health and medical services we don't offer. Additionally, we offer diagnostics and pharmacy services in our facility."

Davis said the company's founding was initially based on the fact that workers' compensation was out of control for many employers. "We knew if we could aggressively help them reduce their comp costs, we would be successful. Our research told us two primary goals were apparent for all employers: first, reduce lost workdays for injured workers. This is the single most important factor in reducing workers' compensation costs for the employer. We knew successful management of work-related injuries is impossible with multiple providers in multiple locations providing care for the same patient and the same injury. It takes a seamless team of specialized professionals who understand the employer's perspective. IWIRC's 'one-stop shop' is the only way to ensure successful outcomes.

"Secondly, we wanted to offer a level of customer service that exceeded employers' expectations and experience from all other vendors or service providers. Customized timely communication, answering employers' questions without making them feel like a burden, and treating workers with the utmost respect when they're in the facility are only a few areas in which we strive to excel. Each of these has an impact on the workers' comp costs as well," he said.

IWIRC is growing exponentially, Davis said, in terms of the number of companies served and the workers evaluated and cared for daily. "We attribute this growth to building solid working relationships with our clients and delivering beyond what we promised. For instance, we currently average less than three physician visits for any given work-related injury. Also, workers are returned safely to some level of work for the employer usually within one business day after an injury."

The future vision includes additional growth, he said. "It was always our intention to have facilities throughout central Illinois with continued steady growth. Many of our client companies with sites outside the tri-county area have already inquired about us expanding to other communities. Given our current level of growth and success, this could become a reality faster than we anticipated."

Knowledge in key areas-and the evolution of that knowledge-is a large factor in the company's success, Davis said. "To ultimately be effective for the employers we serve, our people-whether at the front desk or in one of our clinical areas-must understand the laws regarding worker health, workers' comp, HIPAA, and the ADA. A lack of understanding in these areas has translated into thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs for our clients in the past. Those providers who try to meet the worker's medical or rehab needs without addressing these other employer issues leave clients in unenviable positions."

Because so much rides on having great employees, Davis said they take great care in recruiting employees. "Each of our professionals has been and will continue to be chosen not only for his/her skills, but also for the willingness and desire to serve others. When Pete and I began recruiting associates, we quickly set out to find the right medical and rehab leaders. Christine Cisneros, IWIRC's medical director, is a board-certified occupational medicine physician who's also a psychologist. She has an uncanny bedside manner with injured workers, and they appreciate her aggressive, no-nonsense approach to getting them back to work quickly and safely. Marc Wyckoff, PT, our director of rehab, has spent his entire career treating outpatient traditional and workers' comp patients. Both of these professionals approach patient care from a perspective that it's ultimately the patient's responsibility to recover and the clinician's role to guide the recovery."

In the ever-expanding health services sector, Davis said IWIRC is set apart because of its unique specialization and superior customer service. "Other medical providers in central Illinois developed occupational health programs within existing staff and service lines. IWIRC was built from the ground up with the needs of industry in mind. For example, employers were concerned that workers weren't taking their prescribed medications after an injury. The worker-not knowing where to get them or who pays for them-might not acquire the meds for several days. At IWIRC, medications are dispensed before the worker is discharged, and the payer receives the charge on an integrated bill. Some injured workers need rehab services. In many instances, those services are implemented on the same day, with communication and collaboration between the physician and the therapist being face to face and immediate instead of several days later at another-sometimes unaffiliated-facility."

He said the biggest misconception about his industry is employers believing they have no control over where workers are treated. "This simply isn't the case. Employers can have a 'company physician' and have their workers evaluated by that physician. In most cases, injured workers are happy and willing to have a primary reference point for the care of their injury. For us personally, there've been many misconceptions about our facility since we've opened. Initially, people believed us to be a 'fly-by-night' operation. I think this one has been debunked. Once people see our state-of-the-art facility, meet our staff, and experience a level of service they haven't seen before, it quickly becomes evident to them that we're here to stay."

Like many new companies, Davis said the biggest challenge right now is name recognition. "After nearly a year in business, we still run across those who don't know who we are or what we provide. But this is just part of growing a business. This challenge is decreasing daily, but I'm sure there will be others to replace it. As for the biggest reward, the whole process has been rewarding."

Perhaps that's because they know their profession helps people get on with their lives. "It's a cliché to say that you make a difference in the community-unless, of course, that's what you're doing. We serve some of the largest companies in the tri-county area, and I believe they'd tell you same thing. Our slogan is 'Occupational Medicine That Works.' If you feel you're spending too much money for workers' comp, you should call us. There's never been a provider like IWIRC in the Peoria area. Our client base is growing rapidly, and we look forward to the new challenges and opportunities ahead." IBI