Inside Risk: Amy Pechacek, Lake County, Ill.
See how Risk Manager Amy Pechacek directs Lake County's $25 million self-insured, self-administered operations while also overseeing an in-house claims department.
By Eric Gilkey
Located on the shore of Lake Michigan between Chicago and Wisconsin, Lake County, Illinois, is home to a population of more than 700,000 residents. See how Risk Manager Amy Pechacek, a CLM Fellow since 2011, directs the county’s $25 million self-insured, self-administered operations while also overseeing an in-house claims department.
Q. Did you find risk management? Or did it find you?
A. My background is in investigations. I spent several years working as a private detective serving the defense and insurance industries in combating insurance fraud. I came to Lake County in a similar role: investigating claims, employment issues, and assisting in the defense of civil litigation. After a few months and some great successes, I was promoted to risk manager. There aren’t too many kids walking around saying, “I want to be a risk manager when I grow up.” It’s one of those fields that people typically stumble into one way or another. But once here, most of us find the work challenging, interesting, and rewarding.
Q. What is your day-to-day life like as a risk manager?
A. I am very hands-on with the various county departments, A good portion of my time is also spent overseeing the operations of the in-house claims department as well as meeting with the Civil Division of the State’s Attorney’s Office, the county’s statutory counsel, to discuss strategies for our litigated files. I routinely report to the county board on matters of pending litigation and provide insurance and budgetary updates. I also spend time on strategic policy development, crisis management, and life safety programs.
Q. What is your overall approach to risk management?
A. I work with elected officials, where relationships based on trust are paramount to effective collaboration. When I first came to Lake County, I gained this trust by spending a good deal of time learning all of our operations. I toured the water treatment plants, spent time in our nursing home and health clinics, shadowed our corrections officers, rode along with our work trucks, and even put my hard hat on to hang out with our construction division on active building projects. By understanding the various departments’ missions, I have been able to partner with them on developing effective loss prevention programs to reduce our claims drivers without negatively impacting their civil service goals and obligations.
Q. What risk-related challenges are unique to the public sector?
A. The public sector typically handles those things that the private sector cannot. We don’t have the option of using risk-avoidance techniques for our highest exposures. The government has an obligation to provide policing, probation, corrections, roads, sewage management, and certain types of healthcare to the community regardless of the risk. In addition, taking the profit margin out of the equation makes public sector risk management unique. However, in Lake County we provide these services in an efficient and responsible manner that protects the financial resources and assets of our stakeholders: the taxpayers.
Q. What has been your biggest risk-related success?
A. Partnering with our service area departments to help them understand the impact of workplace safety and the true costs associated with their claims. I hold risk reviews with our departments to keep them in the loop with regard to losses, trends, and the total cost of their risks. We then jointly develop risk reduction and prevention plans to gain improvements. By creating a culture of partnership, teamwork, and accountability, we have reduced our workplace injuries by almost 40 percent in five years.
Q. How are claims handled?
A. Lake County is self-administered, so our in-house claims office has two full-time dedicated adjusters and several support positions, including case managers, analysts, and administrative support. We handle all lines of claims, which are quite diverse given the operations of a municipal government.
Q. Have you encountered any interesting or unique claims?
A. Public entities across the country engaged in law enforcement duties are faced with the relatively new issues of DNA exoneration cases and the associated civil rights litigation dealing with allegations of wrongful prosecution and false arrest. There are also emerging challenges to the broad immunities historically granted to those in law enforcement roles. Not only are the underlying cases fascinating and often the subject of national news attention, but also the associated coverage claims that result from these complex matters are changing the landscape of law enforcement liability in the insurance world.