Hanford to keep ill worker claims contractor. $4.6 million contract awarded

Penser North America has been picked to continue as the administrator of hundreds of workers’ compensation claims at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

It has been awarded a contract valued at up to $4.6 million for up to five years.

DOE is paying a fixed price for services rather than reimbursing costs and then paying incentive fees, as is common for environmental cleanup contracts at Hanford.

Penser, based in Lacey, Wash., was first awarded the contract in 2009. It competed again and was awarded another five-year contract in 2014 valued at about $4.4 million.

However, the third contract carries new requirements for improving and increasing customer support and service for Hanford employees.

DOE is self-insured for state workers’ compensation for contractor and subcontractor employees at the Hanford site near Richland.

DOE hires a workers’ compensation program contractor to investigate and manage worker’s claims of illness or injury following state regulations for self-insured organizations.

The contractor gathers and submits information on workers’ claims to the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries, which approves or denies the worker claims.

Contract requires better communication

The Hanford workers’ compensation program was audited by the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General in 2018 at the same time worker frustration was high over denied claims.

Among the audit findings was that Penser was not giving workers enough information about why claims were recommended for denial by Penser.

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Hanford workers, shown preparing to remove a highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building, face risks from radioactive and hazardous chemicals, plus industrial hazards. Courtesy Department of Energy

It also found that DOE did not reconcile its letter of credit payments to Penser’s records, invoices and payments. The audit found some money from canceled checks that had not been returned to DOE.

The new contract calls for improved communication with claimants and with others involved with claims.

“The stakeholders who will benefit from this enhanced communication include the claimant, the attending physician, Hanford Site contractors, the occupational medical services provider and L&I, DOD said in its announcement of the contract award.

The contract also has new requirements for managing finances, regular performance evaluations and a quality assurance program for processing claims and resolving issues, which should improve overall performance, DOE said.

It also will produce documentation that will help DOE increase oversight.

“The new contract . . . positions DOE to provide increased oversight of the financial and program performance of the contract to ensure claims are managed in accordance with state law and Washington Labor & Industries practices and policies,” said Brian Vance, DOE Hanford manager.

Bidding on the new contract was restricted to small businesses.

Penser’s current contract expires Sept. 30. The new contract has a one-year base period and then can be renewed a year at a time for a total of five years.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.