The passage last year of Senate Bill 242 granted institutions in the Oregon University System more autonomy, which had been sought by campus leaders for years, but along with that lessening of red tape comes a heaping dose of accountability.
Beginning this July 1, Oregon State University and its fellow OUS institutions must begin providing their own insurance coverage. No longer will the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) take care of insuring OSU’s employees, equipment and property.
“The good news is that Oregon State is way ahead of the game because of investments the university made six years ago at the instigation of (vice president) Mark McCambridge to expand and formalize our risk programs,” said Brian Thorsness, OSU’s director of Business Services Administration. “We have some of the most vibrant and comprehensive programs around.
“What SB 242 means is that we will have to purchase our insurance policies through brokers instead of relying on DAS to take care of business,” Thorsness added. “The campus community needs to be aware of the change.”
Thorsness and Patrick Hughes, OSU’s new chief risk officer, have established a website that provides information on various services offered: http://risk.oregonstate.edu/. They suggest that faculty and staff who may need to insure equipment or property, or who oversee activity groups of students, go to the website as a starting point.
As of July 1, OSU will be on its own for insurance and most of the coverage falls into three areas, Hughes said. They include:
- Liability – automobile (for job-related transportation), torts (for slips and falls, etc.);
- Property – all buildings, equipment and general property;
- Workers compensation
Additionally, Hughes said, general insurance includes such things as malpractice insurance for physicians at Student Health Services.
Since passage of SB 242, the Oregon University System has hired its own chief risk officer, Ellen Holland; enlisted a broker to purchase independent insurance policies; and contracted with a third-party administrator to handle claims.
One of the goals of the new system OSU is implementing will be to reward individuals and units that are proactive in reducing risk and protecting their people and property in the most effective manner.
“The more claims we have for lost or damaged property, for example, the steeper our payments will be,” Hughes said. “Therefore, there should be an incentive to keep claims to a minimum – and the best way to do that is to reduce risk. This cannot be a solely centralized process – as a campus, we need to share in the responsibility for planning, readiness and prevention.”
The Risk Management Office will work with faculty, staff and administrators on the right approach to managing risk – and insurance isn’t always the best option, Hughes pointed out. An online template will help OSU employees get started on their assessment, then the Risk Management staff can step in and help prioritize.
The types of coverage the university must maintain is mind-boggling, Thorsness admits. There are oceanographers working on ships in Antarctica, student groups traveling to various competitions, 4-H volunteers and children working with animals at fairs, football games that may attract 45,000 fans, and a range of facilities from cattle ranches to a nuclear reactor.
“We even have to consider ‘extraction’ insurance in the case of someone being kidnapped in another country,” Thorsness said.
As July 1 nears, Thorsness and Hughes say they want the campus community to know that the Risk Management Office is working to make the transition as seamless as possible. But, they also want faculty, staff and administrators to begin examining their needs and opportunities.
“The budget for insurance for 2012-13 is $4.2 million,” Hughes said, “so this is a rather in-depth process. Some of the coverage we get may be more expensive, and there may be savings on other policies. But this is an opportunity to do things in the best way possible and as an institution, Oregon State University is extraordinarily well-positioned for the transition.”
~ Mark Floyd