All Articles by Network Magazine

summer-2019-becoming-your-own-fitic

Become Your Own Fitic

Welcome to Summer 2019! For many of us, this announcement brings excitement and ideas for warm weather freedom experiences. Many of these said new freedoms are usually tied to new stressors regarding time management though. We all want healthier impacts on our daily lifestyles; however, we need first to recognize that there will be negative […]

Welcome to Summer 2019! For many of us, this announcement brings excitement and ideas for warm weather freedom experiences. Many of these said new freedoms are usually tied to new stressors regarding time management though. We all want healthier impacts on our daily lifestyles; however, we need first to recognize that there will be negative occurrences while we are experiencing the positives along the way. These initial points all tie into why we need to keep up our awareness as our own Fitic. That’s right; it’s time to become your own fitness critic!

The first step is realizing that time management is a real challenge, especially as we are bringing new challenges into our healthy lifestyle alignment. Now on the point of awareness, it’s important to realize that many of us have different lifestyle goals and obligations that impact those goals. Some of these obligations can include extended family, children, summer education programs, entrepreneurial side hustles, etc. Now let’s add in the new goals which have become summer obligations which can include summer parties, graduations, weddings, camping trips, day hiking, cycling events, fitness competitions, racing, international travels, etc. Either way, you look at it, many of us seem to find more time in our standard 24-hour day to do more things when the summer occurs.

Now the big point behind becoming your own Fitic is that we must realize that we could be possibly missing out on important health and fitness alignment activities. Adding in new events with friends, family, or even by yourself means that priorities have shifted. Many of us get so busy that our situational awareness has dropped when it comes to taking care of ourselves. We cut back on proper sleep cycles, skip that workout, or get so busy that we allow ourselves that processed fast food. Part of becoming a great self-aware Fitic is realizing that we all should be trying to “S.E.N.D It” in life. S.E.N.D. defined represents Sleep, Exercise, Nutrition, and that important mindset component of Determination. If we expect to “Send It” all summer long and outperform our other seasonal periods of the year, we have to take care of ourselves. That is where S.E.N.D. comes into play when you are learning to “Become Your Own Fitic.”

Overall fitness has been defined in many ways. It is important that each of us realize that we are all at different places on the timeline of life. Your fit friend at work might be further down the timeline on the knowledge that they acquired to get them to where they are. So S.E.N.D. keeps it simple; those four components of Sleep, Exercise, Nutrition, and Determination gives you a strong foundation to focus on. Afterall we can’t forget that classic KISS Method, Keep It Super Simple.

Many of us don’t realize that no one is going to help us reach our goals but for ourselves. If you are going to build out your summer schedule with challenging goals, then you need to own them as your own. You agreed to the commitments, so step up and own them. Do not pass blame or pass accountability to someone else in your friends and family circle if items are not being achieved. Another big secret to success is defining your WHY behind everything you do that will pair up with your accountability. Taking the time to truly define that WHY will help you fuel your passions when the days get tough. This is your mind, your body, and your spirit. So, you need to take accountability for it and become your own best Fitic.

There are a lot of different gurus out there that will point you in different directions. This is your Why in your life, so you need to find what works for you. Many of us are so overwhelmed that we don’t even get to start, let alone being figuring out what it is that will work for us. One of the biggest hacks that are out there is simply taking small actions to start figuring that out, again back to the KISS Method. Before you can become your own best fitness critic, you have to take at least some of the necessary small steps to realize the areas that you can change and improve. For example, what foods can be the best energy in the morning vs. evening, removing the processed fast food, freeing up 10 mins for a morning workout, etc. Maybe it’s adding in the exercise with your children, or maybe you do have a great workout buddy that you can regularly count on for mutual accountability. Another great goal is finding healthier timed activities like skipping the happy hour at the bar. We all have rough workdays; you have a choice on how you decompress the day and relieve stress. Trust me, physical fitness activities bring way better mental and physical gains than alcohol and bar food.

So please remember, you have to care about having a healthier daily lifestyle for yourself. You can build a more bulletproof and energized daily life, yes, you can. Improving your daily energy gains and stress relief from proper exercise with rest and recovery will help you accomplish these added summer goals that you’re adding into your schedule. You’re the one looking in the mirror, and you’re the one that has to hold yourself accountable as you Become Your Own Best Fitic.

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Lehigh Valley’s Economic Renaissance Continues at Remarkable Pace

As Network magazine celebrates its fourth anniversary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the Lehigh Valley economy has grown and changed, even in just four short years. Those of us who live and work here in the Lehigh Valley are already well aware that the region has experienced a major growth spurt in […]

As Network magazine celebrates its fourth anniversary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the Lehigh Valley economy has grown and changed, even in just four short years.

Those of us who live and work here in the Lehigh Valley are already well aware that the region has experienced a major growth spurt in recent years. In fact, this year we were ranked one of the top five fastest-growing regions of our population size in the entire United States, and the single fastest-growing region of our size in the Northeast for the third straight year.

That’s according to Site Selection magazine, which ranks states and metropolitan regions based solely on the number of development projects, amount of economic investment, and job creation during the previous year.

There were 25 major projects that met Site Selection’s criteria last year. Only the much larger Northeast metros of New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston had a larger number, and Boston only narrowly edged us out with just six more projects.

Lehigh and Northampton are two of only 20 growing counties of 67 in Pennsylvania. In the last five years, the population of 18- to 34-year-olds has grown by more than 5%. That age group now comprises 42% of the workforce in our two counties.

We are outpacing Pennsylvania in that demographic. Bethlehem’s millennial generation population is 31.1%, Easton’s is 30.5%, and Allentown’s is 28.2%. That means all of our cities have much greater 18- to 34-year-old populations than Pennsylvania’s population of 22.4%.

If you want another indication of how much the Lehigh Valley has grown in recent years, just take a look at how different today’s regional economy looks compared to only four years ago, when Network magazine released its first issue.

The Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic output (GDP), a measurement of a region’s economic output, is currently at $40.1 billion, a record high number in our region’s history. That’s higher than the entire states of Vermont ($27.4 billion) and Wyoming ($34 billion).

It’s also a roughly 25% jump from four years ago when the regional economy was at $32.1 billion. It has grown each year since then.

Much of our economic growth has been driven by our thriving manufacturing sector, which currently makes up $7.4 billion – or 18.4% – of the Lehigh Valley’s overall $40.1 billion GDP. Four years ago, the manufacturing sector had a regional GDP of $5.6 billion, which made up 17.4% of the overall regional economy at the time.

The Lehigh Valley’s population today is 672,907, compared to 650,507 four years ago, and the population between ages 18 and 34 have risen from 139,501 to 144,522 in that time. We have 326,832 jobs in the regional economy today, compared to 304,699 four years ago, and the number of manufacturing jobs in the Lehigh Valley has risen from 30,599 to 33,725 in that time.

Our unemployment rate today is about 3.9%, compared to 5.5% four years ago. The median household income of the Lehigh Valley has increased from $57,288 to $62,507 over four years, and our industrial market has grown from a total inventory of 103 million square feet to 121.7 million square feet in that same time period.

By nearly every measure, the economic renaissance of the Lehigh Valley and its cities continues at a remarkable pace. What’s happening here is unique. Most importantly, ours is not a story of one sector, one industry one city or one county. It’s a story of balance and diversity.

I look forward to seeing what the next four years bring, and beyond.

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Navigating and Negotiating In a Seller’s Market

Buying in a seller’s real estate market can be daunting. With the possibility of high competition for properties, it can be difficult to determine what might put your offer ahead of others. Below are tips on how to negotiate should you be looking to buy a home in a seller’s market. Sellers have the upper […]

Buying in a seller’s real estate market can be daunting. With the possibility of high competition for properties, it can be difficult to determine what might put your offer ahead of others. Below are tips on how to negotiate should you be looking to buy a home in a seller’s market.

Sellers have the upper hand when it comes to selling in a seller’s market. Buyers can’t be too choosy, especially when the competition is high. If you’ve found a house and there are multiple offers, don’t make demands that will make a seller turn down your offer. If a seller has made it clear that the appliances are not staying, don’t demand them. If there are cosmetic things you don’t like, don’t make the sale contingent upon those items being fixed. A Realtor will be able to offer advice on ways to make your offer more attractive to a seller.

Prices can get crazy in a seller’s market as well, but do not get drawn into an unrealistic price. Remember, even when home inventory is limited, other homes are or will become available. While there are several online programs to instantly provide a ‘Market Price,’ these draw from general information and can be wildly inaccurate. Make sure your Realtor does a market analysis for each home prior to submitting an offer.   There may be a sensible reason to raise your offering price, as well as a good reason to back off. Your agent can factor in expected changes to the area as well as which homes in the area are comparable and which are not.

When it comes to buying or selling a house, finances are a huge part of both transactions. Whether you’re looking to sell or looking to buy, knowing your current financial situation is vital to your next steps.  When it comes to buying a property, getting pre-approval for a mortgage is a must, and it’s an absolute must in a seller’s market. You want to be able to negotiate and close quickly. Having a pre-approval letter from a reputable mortgage lender when making the offer shows you’re serious and ready to make a deal. The letter should indicate the lender has already received and approved your credit history and verification of income. It should have only limited conditions, such as ‘continued level of income of buyer’ and ‘satisfactory appraisal of property.  Money talks when it comes to real estate. If you’re serious about a property, larger earnest money shows the seller you’re serious and already have money on hand. It makes your offer more appealing!

If you currently own a home, one of the first steps you should complete is researching the equity in your current home. You’ll want to know how much your home will sell for in your real estate market. Don’t be afraid to have an inspection done to understand what repairs or work may need to be done on your house as this will help you understand how much you may need to deduct from the possible sale price or any concessions you may need to make for a future buyer.  If you have a mortgage loan, you will absolutely want to know how much equity you have in your home. The equity that has built up could be enough for a down payment on another home. It’s important to remember, though, that any equity is only accessible after closing.

Finding a home when inventory is low can be a difficult task. If you’re on the hunt for a home and live in a city with a competitive real estate market, make the challenge a little less difficult by being prepared!

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From Devastation to Transformation: Amy Robach Reflects on Life Before, During and After Breast Cancer

While reflecting on a conversation with Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the passengers who were aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549 – the Airbus A320 they were flying in struck a flock of geese and Sullenberger was forced to ditch the plane in the Hudson River; all 155 people aboard survived – Amy Robach was best able […]

While reflecting on a conversation with Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the passengers who were aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549 – the Airbus A320 they were flying in struck a flock of geese and Sullenberger was forced to ditch the plane in the Hudson River; all 155 people aboard survived – Amy Robach was best able to summarize her keynote speech for the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® 7th Annual Signature Event held on June 13, 2019:

“One of the [Miracle on the Hudson] passengers said to me, ‘At one point in everyone’s life, everyone experiences their plane crash,’” Robach remembered. “It doesn’t have to be cancer. It doesn’t have to be an actual plane crash. At one point in everyone’s life, you reach a point where you realize that life is not guaranteed. That tomorrow is not guaranteed. That today is all we have.”

Inspirational, motivational and transformative, Robach’s keynote at the Musikfest Café at SteelStacks in Bethlehem took the audience of more than 350 on a journey of how to live life, not how to live a long life, and how to live with an attitude of gratitude.

As a breaking news anchor for “Good Morning America,” co-anchor of ABC’s “20/20,” and a reporter across ABC News, Robach has one of the most recognizable names and faces in journalism. In addition to interviewing countless newsmakers and celebrities, Robach has traveled nationally and internationally to cover major news events. She reported on the terrorist attacks in Manchester, UK and in Brussels, Belgium, as well as the mass shootings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, and the targeting of police officers in Dallas, TX.

In November 2013, Robach was thrust into the public consciousness for more than her journalism. After receiving a mammogram on live television, Robach revealed on “Good Morning America” that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

What follows below are lessons and change that Robach learned and implemented during and after what she calls a devastating, transformative and inspirational cancer journey (For the full interview with Robach, visit the News section at www.GreaterLehighValleyRealtors.com):

For the real estate professional – or any professional, really – how can your story and your journey not only help them in their personal lives but also in the workplace and within the team and office setting?

  It was my work and my job that got me through treatment because you never realize how much it’s important in your life to have that structure, something to look forward to, something to accomplish. Having my job while I was going through cancer treatment actually ended up being this huge, amazing, safe haven, and oasis, which is not what I would have imagined.

What I realized was that, when you’re going through something scary and frightening, when your security has been taken from you, and you don’t know what is going to happen around the bend, you realize how important it is to have that incredible team around you and to have a place to go to each morning and to find joy in your coworkers and support. It was really a beautiful thing.

Going forward in terms of my career, everything did get put into perspective. When you enjoy your job, it’s such a completion of your life and why you want to get up each morning. However, the other part of it too, and I joke about this, but it’s really true, is one of the biggest changes that I made when I came on the other side of this was that I take all of my vacation days.

I used to brag that I left vacation days on the table, that I’m such a hard worker. I realized at a certain point that it’s great to be a hard worker and I still am, and I love my job, but I also make sure that I have that work-life balance that I really, truly didn’t have before. So, I started by taking all of my vacation days. That made me a much more effective and productive person at work because I feel fulfilled in a way that I wasn’t allowing myself to feel. I’m more rested. I’m more energetic. I’m more excited about rolling up my sleeves and coming up with the next project.

Your career after college has followed quite the trajectory. In today’s climate with women really rising above and striving and thriving and making waves, what advice do you have for women?

The number one thing is we have to start supporting each other; we have to start being able to count on each other and to trust each other… When you can work with other women and truly root each other on and truly be excited about other women’s success, we all have a much better landing pad when things go wrong. I think together we’re stronger.

What I’ve done at work is that I created what I call a “Girl Gang.” When we finish work, we lunch together; we work out together, we shop together. We really have forged these incredible friendships that have made me feel that when I walk into work, I walk into a family. My other family.

We’ve really created a healthy environment… We schedule our days around healthy activities that we do with each other so that it becomes a social and a healthy experience. Not only has it been a physical change, but an emotional and a spiritual change in me, too, because I just feel so supported. I have so much more love in my life than I did before. Everything from head to toe has changed for me in terms of how I feel.

—-

Nearly $10,000 Raised for Local Cancer Support Organizations

The Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® 7th Annual Signature Event included live and silent auctions, in addition to basket raffles, in support of the Cancer Support Community of the Greater Lehigh Valley and the Women’s 5K Classic. Attendees had the opportunity to bid on unique items that included a football, mini helmet, jersey and poster autographed by the Lehigh Valley’s very own Saquon Barkley, a round of golf for three at Lehigh Country Club, a package for The Spa at The Hotel Hershey, and much, much more.

In total, $9,358 was raised. The money will be split between the above-mentioned organizations.

The mission of the Cancer Support Community is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community. The organization, which relies completely on donations, has helped people affected by cancer actively engage in their health care, connect with others, reduce stress and isolation, and restore hope for a better quality of life. There are support groups, educational workshops, wig salon events, healthy cooking classes, exercise classes that include T’ai Chi, yoga and karate, and so much more. And it’s all free to those affected by cancer.

Since 1993, the Women’s 5K Classic has raised funds to support Greater Lehigh Valley organizations that share its mission of promoting fitness among women of all ages, assisting women and families affected by breast and other female cancers, and educating women about breast cancer awareness, prevention, and treatment.

When the race first began, about 250 women participated and raised $2,500, which was donated to Lehigh Valley Hospital. Since that time, the race has grown to nearly 5,000 participants annually and includes a competitive walk, a 5K run, a Pink Ribbon Loop, and a Friday Night Health Expo.

Since the very first dollar was raised, more than $3 million has been invested in the Lehigh Valley community. The Women’s 5K Classic, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that takes over the Little Lehigh Parkway in Allentown every October has touched the lives of over 13,000 women and their families.

The Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® thanks the individuals who participated in the fundraising efforts and is honored to help the above organizations and their causes. As the association’s CEO, Justin Porembo, always says, “REALTORS® are not just here for the transaction. We’re here to help build the community.”

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Do You Use Protection?

Do you use protection? No, not the kind of protection you’re likely thinking of.  It’s a provocative question from the American Academy of Dermatology, designed to get you to think about and use sunscreen regularly.  It’s imperative to slather on the sunscreen during the summer but also important year-round. I’ve been a member of AAD […]

Do you use protection?

No, not the kind of protection you’re likely thinking of.  It’s a provocative question from the American Academy of Dermatology, designed to get you to think about and use sunscreen regularly.  It’s imperative to slather on the sunscreen during the summer but also important year-round.

I’ve been a member of AAD since I began my career as a board-certified dermatologist, and the need for sunscreen has never been greater.  Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in United States.  In fact, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. It is estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.

By definition, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. It most often develops on areas of the skin exposed to the sun’s rays. Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races, although those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk. It’s why we encourage everyone to wear protective sunscreen daily. We also encourage annual skin cancer checks in our office.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, while basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are the two most common forms of skin cancer. Here are some basic facts about each:

Melanoma is the most serious.

  • Frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
  • Is often treated surgically.  May also require chemotherapy.

Squamous Cell is the second most common form of cancer.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma often looks like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed.
  • Cases tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.
  • Most squamous cell carcinomas of the skin can be completely removed with surgery, radiation therapy or occasionally with a topical medication.

Basal Cell is the most common and slowest growing form of skin cancer.

  • Basal cell carcinomas often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment are important.
  • Doesn’t commonly spread to other parts of the body, but it’s still recommended to be removed.
  • Basal cell carcinoma that is superficial and doesn’t extend very far into the skin may be treated with creams or ointments.

While Mohs surgery remains the “go to” treatment for melanoma, it has also been the traditional choice for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma treatment. Depending on the severity of the case, it has drawbacks. Moh’s surgery, even when done by the best surgeon , can develop complications such as post-operative bleeding, infection or scarring   Patients must also stop taking their blood thinners before surgery, which  puts susceptible patients at risk for blood clots or stroke, especially in patients with AFib.  With that, we were looking for an alternative for patients who don’t need Mohs.

At Lehigh Valley Dermatology, we’re excited by the renewed use of superficial radiation therapy (SRT) for non-melanoma skin cancer.  Interestingly, it’s one of the oldest treatments, having been developed more than 100 years ago.  It’s been refined for use today.  In fact, we’ve just added this treatment back into our arsenal at the practice by bringing in SkinCure, a leader in this SRT Therapy renaissance.

SRT is a highly evolved technology that allows high resolution imaging of the tumor, and delivery of safe and precise doses of superficial radiation.  It’s a proven non-invasive procedure that has been used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer for decades.  Because the x-rays concentrate the superficial radiation dose on the skin surface, the treatment has several advantages over surgical procedures for skin cancer.  Cosmetic results are excellent and no cutting is necessary.  Most importantly patients are not put at risk by holding their anticoagulants!  It’s a painless, safe and highly effective non-surgical option for skin cancer treatment. We’re pleased to be putting the power of it to use again in the Lehigh Valley.    

The best offense is a good defense when it comes to fighting skin cancer.  Start with that sun protection and be vigilant with skin cancer checks.  If treatment is needed, technology is on your side.  We hope our provocative question prompts you to protect yourself this summer and year-round.

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MILD TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES – A SILENT EPIDEMIC

We hear more about brain injuries than ever before.  After his tour bus was struck by a Walmart tractor-trailer in 2014, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan underwent daily speech, cognitive, occupational and physical therapy for his traumatic brain injury.  In an interview a year later, Morgan said, “I have my good days and my bad […]

We hear more about brain injuries than ever before.  After his tour bus was struck by a Walmart tractor-trailer in 2014, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan underwent daily speech, cognitive, occupational and physical therapy for his traumatic brain injury.  In an interview a year later, Morgan said, “I have my good days and my bad days, or I forget things,” as he also described recurring headaches.  And in sports, with the beginning of the 2013-14 NFL season, an independent neurological consultant stays on the sideline of each team for every game as part of the NFL’s concussion protocol.

About 85% of the time, symptoms from a concussion or minor head trauma (other names for mild TBI) resolve within a short time.  More than 50% of these cases result from falls or motor vehicle crashes.  Unfortunately, about 15% of those injured have more persistent effects, some permanent.

More Common Effects of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Mild TBI has been referred to as a “silent epidemic” because the signs and symptoms are often subtle.  Someone feels fine a few weeks after an accident, only to find out from a loved one, co-worker or friend that all is not the same.  Many people experience the most common signs of mild TBI, including nausea, persistent headaches, double vision, or dizziness.  Problems with concentration and recurrent headaches are common and are viewed by some as the brain “working overtime” to heal completely.

Within months, many generally feel better, but upon returning to the workplace or to school, some are overwhelmed.  Unable to remember the name of a co-worker or a simple chemical formula, they have problems with basic cognitive skills.  It becomes challenging to learn new material, to concentrate or to pay attention.  The injured person has a low threshold for confusion and thinks more slowly.  When using a computer screen, headaches return, often accompanied by problems with double vision or blurriness.  Complaints of disbelief range from, “I’ve forgotten my bank account PIN number,” to “I can no longer parallel park.”

Psychological Disruption

Not expecting what may have been a relatively mild car crash to cause long-term issues, the mild TBI patient often minimizes the deficits or tries to compensate.   In leaving notes all over the house or carrying an index card with the names of co-workers, there is an effort to both dismiss and to compensate.  If recall and concentration abilities continue to fail, then frustration and depression can set in.  The TBI patient feels socially isolated, not wanting the “secret” to be disclosed.  However, the deficits are often apparent to others, and they may encourage the injured to seek further medical evaluation and care.

The Clinical Setting

Because mild TBI can be difficult to identify objectively, medical providers look at the entire clinical picture, including the severity of the original blow to the head, whether there was a loss of consciousness, how the patient scores on basic tests of recalling numbers and words, and, upon reviewing test results, whether more subtle neuro-psychological symptoms emerge.  Vision disturbances, including subtle but rapid movement of the eyeball, may provide clues.  Even more recent developments in MRI imaging of the white matter of the brain can help the radiologist determine whether the axons (the connectors between the brain cells) have been torn.

Treatment and Support

When all of these tests, evaluations, and scans are considered together by a treatment team, then truly effective treatment can begin.  Eyeglasses with subtle prisms can help restore peripheral vision and re-train the brain to see.  Social workers, psychologists and concussion specialists are more in tune with the cognitive and emotional effects.  A mild TBI patient’s sense of mental wellness can be improved with acceptance and rehabilitation of the brain through mental and visual exercises.  Targeted medication can alleviate mood impairment.  Family, co-workers and friends can be educated to understand that a person with TBI may be irritable, experience mood swings or may simply zone out, but these are not intentional, and over time they can be better controlled.

Summary

The impact of a traumatic brain injury may not become apparent until long after the cuts and bruises have healed following an accident and blow to the head.  The feelings of isolation, depression, and frustration can only be lessened through an inter-disciplinary approach with the patient, the family, and health care professionals.   

While this collective effort can never lessen the blow to the head, it can make the

“new normal” easier to bear for the patient, as well as the injured’s friends, co-workers, and family.

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MAYDAY, MAYDAY, ITS PAYDAY: The Dangers of Paying Employees Improperly

Much like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, improperly classifying and paying employees has sunk its fair share of employers.  It seems like each week, or at least each month, employers are faced with a new law, regulation, or case interpretation which impacts the manner in which they have to pay employees. By way of […]

Much like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, improperly classifying and paying employees has sunk its fair share of employers.  It seems like each week, or at least each month, employers are faced with a new law, regulation, or case interpretation which impacts the manner in which they have to pay employees.

By way of example, recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard argument in the matter of Chevalier v. Gen. Nutrition Centers, Inc., which pertains to an employer’s use of what is referred to as the “fluctuating workweek” and the potential significant difference between the federal and the Commonwealth’s interpretation of the law.  The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits an employer to use the fluctuating workweek to pay an employee a fixed weekly salary for all hours worked, so long as the employer also pays an overtime premium equal to one-half of the employee’s regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of forty (40) per week.  All states must adhere to the requirements of the FLSA.  States, however, are also permitted to implement their own wage and hour laws, and employers must follow whichever law is more beneficial to the employee.

In this regard, Pennsylvania has implemented the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA), which mirrors the FLSA in most regards; however, it does include differing language as it pertains to the fluctuating workweek.  The PMWA is more “employee-friendly” because it requires employers to pay 1 and  imes the regular rate to employees for overtime worked rather than merely adding the “one-half” to such an amount as required by the FLSA.  As such, under the PMWA, an employer would be required to pay an employee more for the overtime hours worked than if the FLSA language applied. The foregoing is significant because employers are required to follow the law that is more beneficial to the employee, not the employer.  Depending on how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules, it may have a significant impact on an employer who uses a “fluctuating workweek” and may result in claims by employees for unpaid wages.

The fluctuating workweek is just one example of the potential pitfalls employers face when dealing with properly paying employees.  Given that it is summer, two other potential issues arise more often:  the use of independent contractors and unpaid interns.  Employers love using independent contractors because they do not have to pay overtime or payroll taxes.  Employers also love using unpaid interns because they are, well, unpaid.  In order for a worker to be classified as an independent contractor or an unpaid intern, however, they must meet specifically defined tests.  If they do not meet such tests, they have to be paid at least minimum wage and overtime for all hours worked over forty in a workweek.

So, who is an “independent contractor”?  As a general matter, for someone to be an independent contractor, the company cannot control the manner or means by which the individual performs the work.  By way of example, a company should not inform the worker how to do the work, what hours to do the work, or provide the tools to complete the job.  The company also should not provide the worker with any benefits that are provided to a regular employee, such as vacation time, health insurance, or a pension plan.  The worker should be free to work for other entities and should not spend the entirety of a workweek working for one company.  Further, the worker should have some potential liability with regard to the work being performed.  For example, if the company is not paid for work performed by the end client, the worker also does not get paid.

The foregoing is not an exhaustive list of factors which would be considered, but merely examples of what a court, or the Department of Labor, would review when determining if a company misclassified an employee as an independent contractor.  If such a determination is made, the company would be subjected to significant penalties and potential damages including attorneys’ fees and a twenty-five percent additional payment on the money due to a worker for unpaid wages.

Similarly, if a company misclassifies an employee as an unpaid intern, it could expose the company to similar damages and penalties.  In order to determine if an intern can be “unpaid,” a company should determine who is the primary beneficiary of the work being performed.  If the company is the “primary beneficiary,” then the internship must be paid.  If, on the other hand, the student is the “primary beneficiary,” then the internship may be unpaid.

In order to determine the “primary beneficiary”, a company can look to certain factors which include the following:  the intern clearly understands that there is no expectation of compensation; the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment; the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program; the internship’s duration is limited; the intern’s work complements the work of paid employees; and the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

Improper use of the fluctuating workweek, independent contractors, and unpaid interns are merely a few ways in which wage and hour issues can sink an employer.  It is imperative that an employer remains aware of all the changes and updates to the laws and regulations and properly pays its employees.  If an employer fails to do so, it will end up hitting an iceberg without a lifeboat.

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summer-2019-sex-trafficking

The Ugly Truth Sex Trafficking is Happening Here

The trafficking of humans for sexual exploitation sounds terrifyingly exotic; the plot in a Hollywood movie like Taken where beautiful women are abducted and sold to the highest bidder in an auction attended by the ultra-rich. In reality sex trafficking arrests are increasing in places like Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, South Whitehall, Lower Macungie, Palmer and […]

The trafficking of humans for sexual exploitation sounds terrifyingly exotic; the plot in a Hollywood movie like Taken where beautiful women are abducted and sold to the highest bidder in an auction attended by the ultra-rich. In reality sex trafficking arrests are increasing in places like Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, South Whitehall, Lower Macungie, Palmer and Bethlehem Townships. The victims are mostly young women from those same communities.

Today, sex trafficking takes place in your hometown. It happens at fake massage businesses, strip clubs, truck stops, hotels, and motels. It is made easy by online “escort” services and websites like skipthegames.com that allow the explicit advertisement of any and all sexual acts. One can browse through hundreds of “profiles,” many including X-rated images, each of which includes a list of the sexual acts the “escort” is willing to perform. So far these websites have been able to avoid the fate of backpage.com which served the same purpose until April 2018 when the Federal Government indicted several people connected to the site for facilitating prostitution.

This sex trafficking is brutal and humiliating. The victims are often children and young adults. The Hollywood imagery of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman could not be less accurate. The overwhelming majority of women (and yes men also) being sold for sex have no choice in the matter. There is no “hooker with a heart of gold” story when a man pays $80 to have sex with a drug addicted teen in a motel room off Airport Road.

The truth is that most of these women are controlled by men; pimps or traffickers, who manipulate, exploit, control, extort, beat, and rape them. The pattern seen repeatedly in this business is a young woman, typically vulnerable, alone, and unsophisticated. Often overconfident in her ability to control the situation or the man who will exploit her. The pimp starts out as caring, protective, even charming. The promise of easy money, access to drugs, physical protection, and someone to take care of her is enticing to one unfamiliar with exploitation and violence. Often the victim is plied with drugs to the point of addiction. Opioids have become the favorite drug, especially fentanyl, because of how quickly the addiction is set and how long and torturously painful withdrawal can be. The need for the drug drives the women to acts they never would have previously considered. Refusal leads to withholding of the next fix and the pain of withdrawal. Physical assault and rape are constant threats against any woman who fails to follow the rules set down by her trafficker. Often degrading photos and videos of the women are used as a means extortion, with threats to release the images to family or more publicly on social media.

A woman trying to break free from this cycle fears the drug withdrawal, perhaps as much as she fears the rapes and beatings. Many who are in the control of a trafficker are also in fear of law enforcement due to their own criminal acts. The shame and humiliation threatened by the release of the videos and pictures often means returning to family is a fraught option they cannot face. Few believe they can escape safely.

While the ugliness of sex trafficking remains somewhat hidden, the damage it does affects the entire community. Illegal drug use and violence often accompany trafficking. The broken lives of the victims and their families cause a devasting ripple effect across generations. This is not just occurring in exotic locations. It is happening is Fogelsville, Hanover Township, Lehighton, Reading, and every local community.

The response is also occurring throughout our area. Local police and prosecutors work together, often with the Department of Homeland Security, to identify traffickers and prosecute them. Some high-profile cases have increased community awareness. A non-profit group Valley Against Sex Trafficking (VAST) has been working to end sexual exploitation and empower survivors of sex trafficking. Increased community awareness is part of the plan to eliminate human trafficking. One part of the solution is to shed light on the issue instead of allowing it to remain hidden or ignored. Resources are available locally and nationwide at www.thevast.org; 484.560.6836 and 1.888.373.7888.

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summer-2019-telemedicine

Telemedicine: Its Legal Challenges

The advent of internet-enabled technologies and the expansion of telecommunication services has made a new form of medicine possible, appropriately branded telemedicine. The simple definition of telemedicine is the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. At this point, many of you have probably heard of […]

The advent of internet-enabled technologies and the expansion of telecommunication services has made a new form of medicine possible, appropriately branded telemedicine. The simple definition of telemedicine is the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. At this point, many of you have probably heard of telemedicine. In fact, the idea is certainly not new. As far back as the 1950s hospital systems and medical centers attempted to share information and images via the phone. One of the first reported successes of this foray occurred in this state when two Pennsylvania health centers transmitted radiologic images over the phone.

Unlike telehealth, which is a broad term referring to any health services conducted with the aid of internet technologies, telemedicine specifically entails replacing the traditional doctor’s visit with a secure online interaction. There are two primary forms of telemedicine technologies, “synchronous” and “asynchronous.” “Synchronous” technology allows real-time communication between the patient at the “originating site” and the practitioner at the “distant site.” “Asynchronous” technology, also known as “store and forward,” refers to the transmission of medical information from the “originating site” to the “distant site” that the practitioner then reviews at a later time. Policymakers and physicians alike strongly prefer “synchronous” technology as having a live, interactive conference is much less likely to impact the quality of care.  Many of the existing insurance carriers that offer reimbursement for telemedicine services strictly prohibit “asynchronous” technology.

The popularization of telemedicine arose from its theorized diverse applications, especially its use for providing specialty care for remote patients who have previously lacked the availability and means to seek such care. Other applications include “follow-up” visits, remote chronic disease management, remote post-hospitalization care, preventative care support, school-based telehealth, and assisted living center support. “Follow-up” visits are often missed or rescheduled. Telemedicine eliminates this inefficiency and increases the convenience for the patient and provider. Utilizing telemedicine for chronic disease management decreases cost and allows patients to maintain better control over their health. Readmissions due to a lack of proficient post-hospitalization care can be significantly reduced by employing telemedicine to assess and advise patients whether to return to the hospital. Mental health and addiction treatment can benefit patients by ensuring they receive the immediate care and support they require. By instituting telemedicine in school systems, children can receive immediate diagnoses from practitioners without ever having to leave school. This diagnostic triaging can determine the severity of the child’s condition and thereby reduce the unnecessary and costly process of parent pickups and immediate emergency center care. Parents can be provided with instructions and reassurances all in a convenient, streamlined manner. Assisted living centers now have an avenue for less urgent issues that arise at night or on the weekend that forego hospitalization. On-call practitioners can now provide immediate care. With a multitude of applications and availability of technology telemedicine should be widely available; however, two hurdles, regulation and reimbursement, continue to block the way.

Though the idea is old, the adoption and practice of telemedicine are still in its infancy. Not only did the concept of telemedicine have to wait for the production of expensive and complex equipment capable of reliably connecting doctors to their patients, but it also had to wait for the adaptation of the legal and regulatory framework to support it. Much like the adoption of universal electronic medical records, the process to implement widespread access to telemedicine has been arduous. Even in this modern technological age, long after the necessary equipment and network infrastructure have been developed, legislatures have been slow to pass bills that specifically outline the regulations on telemedicine and the limitations on insurance carriers reimbursing practitioners.

The regulatory environment for telemedicine presents various key issues that state medical boards and legislatures have worked to define and resolve. Chiefly among those issues, online prescribing, physician-patient relationship, cross-state licensing, and patient consent for treatment have posed strenuous challenges. Online prescribing of medications via telemedicine, especially that of scheduled drugs, typically requires an initial in-person physical exam. How the physician-patient relationship is established for telemedicine differs from state to state. Some states require the first “new-patient” visit to be in person with subsequent “follow-up” visits allowed to be conducted through telemedicine. Other states allow the physician-patient relationship to be established entirely through telemedicine interaction. Each state has its own laws regarding patient consent for treatment, and some states do not require it at all. Traditionally, written consent is required, and some states maintain this requirement for telemedicine care. Other states have adopted the written consent to an interactive online form that ensures patients read and check each pertinent line item. Lastly, cross-state licensing, which allows practitioners to provide telemedicine care to a patient in a neighboring state in which the practitioner is not licensed, requires the cooperation of state medical boards to form working models. These models include reciprocity, licensure by endorsement, and mutual recognition. Reciprocity is the simplest model allowing practitioners to utilize their existing license in another state. Licensure by endorsement involves state boards granting licenses to practitioners who hold valid licenses in states with similar standards. Some endorsement states require the practitioner to attain additional qualifications. Mutual recognition involves the organization of a multi-state pact that forms a legal agreement to accept the policy and processes of each participant-state with efforts made to promote the “harmonization of standards.” Each of these issues has required significant consideration by policymakers to ensure that the quality of patient care does not decline as a result of telemedicine.

State-mandated reimbursement programs are vital to the survival of telemedicine. In each state, both private payer reimbursement and Medicaid & Medicare reimbursement require legislation. Private carriers almost universally exclude “asynchronous” telemedicine. They also have stringent requirements regarding the technological platforms utilized for the “appointment.” Third-party platforms, such as Skype are not permitted. Only platforms that are specifically designed for telemedicine are allowed. This ensures patient privacy and prevents connectivity-related issues. Reimbursement levels are also controlled by the state with most requiring the same level of reimbursement for telemedicine as for in-person visits. Medicaid has the same reimbursement protocols as Medicare for telemedicine. The only variation is that Medicaid offers lower reimbursement levels for certain types of care. Forty-eight states provide Medicaid reimbursement for “synchronous” telemedicine, the exceptions being Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The factors for telemedicine reimbursement that both private payers and Medicaid consider are the medical specialty type, the type of service provided, the “originating site,” and the “distant site.” The framework for telemedicine reimbursement undergoes consistent changes that adapt as the availability of care expands.

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania heard House Bill No. 15, which outlined the regulations for Pennsylvania telemedicine, in the 2019 session on March 5th. The bill includes guidelines for state licensure boards on how to regulate telemedicine. It discusses explicitly patient privacy and data security standards, which must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. Under the same section, the bill also considers model policies for the appropriate use of telemedicine technologies. Pennsylvania mandates that telemedicine care complies with the current health care regulations such as the establishment of the patient-provider relationship, consent for treatment, appropriate examinations, and maintaining electronic medical records. “Out-of-State health care providers” are only permitted to offer telemedicine care through a federally operated facility or in certain emergency cases. Lastly, the bill discusses the framework for reimbursement for both private payers and Medicaid. Currently, both Highmark and Independence Blue Cross offer coverage for telemedicine care in Pennsylvania; furthermore, Medicaid & Medicare reimbursement is supported outside of metropolitan statistical areas. All in all, general access to telemedicine care in Pennsylvania is expanding. As the need for medical services in multi-state remote areas grows, so too will telemedicine. With the expansion of telemedicine nationwide, we will continue to see an increased necessity for legal guidance to ensure the quality of patient care.

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summer-2019-employee-work-injury

Is My Employee’s Work Injury Legit? Red Flags A Claim May Be Bogus

Pennsylvania employees reported 174,216 work injuries in 2017.  This is an increase of more than 15,000 on-the-job injuries reported in 2016 when Pennsylvania employers and insurers paid out a whopping 3.1 BILLION to cover lost wages and medical treatment.    As this figure illustrates, the costs associated with employee injuries can be staggering and while […]

Pennsylvania employees reported 174,216 work injuries in 2017.  This is an increase of more than 15,000 on-the-job injuries reported in 2016 when Pennsylvania employers and insurers paid out a whopping 3.1 BILLION to cover lost wages and medical treatment.    As this figure illustrates, the costs associated with employee injuries can be staggering and while workers’ compensation is an unavoidable cost of doing business, how many injuries are not legitimate? How many accidents are phony or staged turning a pre-existing condition into a work-related liability?  It’s impossible to gauge the number of bogus claims or what impact they have on premiums, but business owners are not helpless.  Companies can take simple measures when conducting injury investigations to effectively uncover and stamp out bogus claims improving their bottom line.

It should be a no-brainer that all claims, no matter how big or small, must be investigated but many companies surprisingly have no formal procedure in place or their “investigation” is limited to completing a report which contains only basic information.   After all, isn’t it the responsibility of the claims professional to conduct the investigation? Yes and no.  While the insurer should do its own investigation, the devil is in the details and the most critical information can only come from the employer.  An excellent starting point, whether you’re a mom and pop shop or huge conglomerate, is to promptly gather all essential information and look for any red flags.   

Here’s a checklist to jumpstart the investigation.

  • New or recent hire.
  • Injury is reported while employee is working through a temporary agency.
  • Delay in reporting injury.
  • Injury allegedly happens on a Friday but is not reported until the following week.
  • Injury occurs prior to news of a layoff, strike or plant closure.
  • Injury reported after employee was fired or laid off.
  • Employee is disgruntled (i.e., denied vacation, demoted or passed over for a promotion, poor performance review, job dissatisfaction, conflict with co-worker(s)).
  • Recent discipline and termination imminent. 
  • Spike in absenteeism.
  • Injury coincides with change in personal circumstances (i.e., illness of spouse, pregnancy of employee/spouse, end of seasonal work or project, spouse relocation, separation/divorce, childcare issues, enrollment in college).
  • Injury reported before a planned retirement or vacation. 
  • Employee regularly uses FMLA leave or has history of STD or LTD claims. 
  • Employee has a history of work-related and/or personal injury claims.
  • Employee is self-employed on the side with no workers’ comp coverage. 
  • Rumors that accident outside of work.
  • Employee account of accident/injury does not make sense or has varied.
  • CCTV does not corroborate accident/injury.
  • Body part(s) allegedly hurt changes.        
  • Incident is unwitnessed or witnessed only by friend or relative.
  • Witness statements are contrary to employee account.     
  • Employee is uncooperative with investigation (i.e., refuses to sign Medical Authorization or limits to post-injury records, refuses to provide Statement, does not return calls).      
  • Refuses offers of modified work.
  • Insists treating with “own doctor” instead of panel provider.
  • Shows up at work utilizing “props” when not prescribed (i.e., back/neck/knee brace, arm sling, crutches/cane). 
  • Quickly hires attorney and asks about settlement. 

Employers must promptly relay any red flags to their claims professional since we are under a 21-day deadline from the employee’s first missed day of work to make a compensability determination or risk penalties.  This is only 15 business days.  Naturally, the presence of one or more red flags does not necessarily mean a claim is not legitimate and the totality of the circumstances must always be considered but identifying red flags early on has proven to be an effective way of weeding out bogus claims.        

Amy has been representing employers, insurers and third-party administrators in workers’ compensation matters for over 23 years.  If you have any questions or would like more information, Amy can be reached at aandrews@zatorlaw.com or 610-841-5863.

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