Over the past several months, Harvey County administration has taken a look at changing pre-employment policies and practices within county offices.

Action along those lines was taken earlier this year when the county commission approved a new substance abuse and drug and alcohol-free workplace policy. Now, administrative staff is looking to make more change, bringing a proposal for a Post-Offer Employment Testing pilot program before the commission this week.

"We believe there is value to moving to the POET system as opposed to the system we have now," said County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber.

Currently, the Harvey County Health Department administers pre-employment physicals (with the exception of Department of Transportation physicals) as a means of screening. Under POET, those same physicals and more would be administered by a third-party provider (like ARC Physical Therapy of Wichita) — and allow for additional benefits.

Participation in the POET program would see the county work with a workers' compensation insurance provider to develop a functional job analysis — an assessment of any physical requirements — for positions countywide (though it was noted similarity among some jobs may allow for carryover of certain FJAs). Providers then send representatives onsite to observe, measure and weigh items while also gaining input for the FJAs through interviews with supervisors, employees and human resources.

Upon a successful drug screen, potential employees would then be put through POET, which would include a full exam (checking movement patterns, range of motion, cardiovascular fitness, etc.) along with the job-specific testing to see if new hires can meet the necessary requirements.

"This has the ability to limit our exposure from a human resources perspective," Swartzendruber said. "It has the ability to provide a savings on workers' comp claims, which would ultimately save us on work comp premiums. It would also reduce workload...just from a standpoint of having a streamlined process for hiring."

"This is quickly becoming the national standard, not so much in government, but a lot of private businesses are utilizing this because of the savings on the back end," added Assistant County Administrator Dan Bronson, who is familiar with such programs through past employment.

In addition to making sure new employees can fulfill the tasks that will be required of them, Bronson and Swartzendruber both highlighted how POET could also benefit the county in providing "fit for duty" testing. If employees are injured outside of work, they noted the provider could then administer an assessment that clears said employees to return to work.

Swartzendruber noted the county's provider, KWORCC (Kansas Workers Risk Cooperative for Counties), was contacted about partnering on such a program and was open to Harvey County being a test site in conjunction with KWORCC and its provider (Bardavon). Through a program partnership, the county would send employees to Wichita for POET assessments and cover half of the $150 cost for each test, while KWORCC would cover the other half as well as the cost associated with developing FJAs.

It was noted that current employees would be grandfathered in and not have to go through the new POET program, but they would be required to complete the "fit for duty" assessments if injured outside of work — helping to potentially eliminate even more workers' comp risks.

Financial cuts through continued participation in the program was a question brought up by commissioners, but Swartzendruber noted he could not say definitively whether the costs for each test administered would eventually go down. What he did point out is that there already is a cost of $55 for each current pre-employment physical — though those fees do stay in county, going to the health department.

How those tests are administered across departments was also questioned by commissioners, particularly in regards to the sheriff's office. While it was noted a physical agility drill test is not currently administered, the job requirements are a little more rigorous than what POET traditionally covers, though it could become at least a part of the process for that department.

"It's more occupational therapy, physical therapy driven," Bronson said of POET.

Seeking a consensus among the governing body, commissioners were in favor of proceeding in work on the pilot program because of cost saving benefits it could offer as well as knowing KWORCC could easily seek out other partner counties if the commission turned it down.

"I'm more than willing to be the first party to go down this road with them," Swartzendruber said. "It could be saving you significantly more."