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No Job too Tough for Robin the Energetic Claims Adjuster
By John Millrany - August 29, 2001

When the bell rings, Robin Gonzalez answers. Need to kill some grasshoppers in Wyoming (pesky dratted interlopers) or attack citrus canker in Miami (can’t have bad juice down there) or take on the medfly? Remember that one?

Well, Robin is your operative. Now a proven slogger in the field of workers’ compensation, the St. Paul, MN native has been all over heck and back, from foxhole to foxhole—but has had a wonderful time through it all.

Her emergence into the claims business followed a colorful trail that began shortly after college at Gustavus Adolphus in southern Minnesota where she majored in art/biology, a discipline that would include, for example, drawing cells. "I thought I would go into the art industry, but I found out right away that that didn’t pay."

So how did Robin wind up in the claims biz? "I certainly didn’t go to college thinking this (WC) was what I was going to do," she laughs. So here’s what happened:

She started out as a summer temp mail carrier because the local postmaster was her neighbor. He suggested that she check out the Federal Building around the corner and look at job postings. "Next thing I knew, I was winging my way to Puerto Rico, where, as a member of the US Department of Agriculture, I served 11 years in the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) Division.

"It was a wonderful experience. I got to travel the world, places like South America and Australia, and it paid a hell of a lot more than the art industry.

"I spent one summer killing grasshoppers in Wyoming and time in Miami attacking citrus canker. They wanted me there because I spoke Spanish.

"My work included inspections, fumigation—we would be out there with our hammers and chisels checking out wood products that were shipped to the US."

Robin’s initiation to California came with a transfer to Sunnyvale, CA in 1989—after Hurricane Hugo wiped out much of San Juan, PR—where she was assigned as a PPQ officer. Another blitzkrieg was indicated to attack a nasty pest with a proclivity to attack peaches, pears, plums, apples, apricots, avocados, citrus, cherries, figs, grapes, guavas, kumquats, loquats, nectarines, peppers, persimmons, tomatoes and several nuts. Whew! Big job here in Sunnyvale.

Robin and team got busy with inspections and rooting out nests. And once again, mission accomplished. Got the mean old medfly on the run again.

It was at this juncture that Robin felt the need to settle down and she liked the territory. She took a job with a chiropractor and was soon processing WC claims. Asked about any particularly unusual aspects to that work, a quick thought popped up: "Interviewing someone who smelled so bad you had to leave the door open…"

She was soon filing liens, collecting unpaid bills, learning how people got injured, and had the foresight to dive into a variety of industrial courses provided by the Insurance Educational Association to further hone her claims skills.

Colleagues of Robin know her as a quick wit and a super-hard worker. They might recall her telling stories how the chiropractor’s office was located in a morgue. "The blood drain was down in the basement where we worked. We used to tease new employees with ‘blood stories.’"

Working at the chiropractor’s office turned out good for Robin because it launched her career in claims handling.

"I met my husband Greg through workers’ compensation claims!!! I was handling the City of Redwood City as a claims administrator, and we started talking one day on the telephone (at the time he was a manager in public works). About one year after our first telephone conversation we met for the first time on a double date, and eventually married in 1998."

She now works with one other claims adjuster at Cities Group in Burlingame just up the 101 from Redwood City where Robin and Greg have settled. The company functions under a JPA (joint powers authority) and represents as a self-insurer exclusively municipalities, primarily smaller cities that don’t have humongous budgets.

Think of Robin in a lean-and-mean environment. "I don’t even know if we could do all our work without scanners. I’m so glad we’re almost down to a paperless system. The only time you create paper is if you’re writing letters."

Her claims load varies from 130 to 170—down from more than 200 cases at a previous claims house where she said, "You couldn’t be proactive there, only reactive. All you could do is put out fires."

An effective claims adjuster has to "pretty much be a Type A personality," Robins says. "If you let things drag and pile up in your in-basket, you’re not going to excel. You have to be organized. You have to be able to talk on the phone. By the end of the week, you’re drained. Some days are worse than others, but what I really like about this work is, each day is different, not the same old thing."

Robin is keeping her eye on developments of SB 71, the Sen. Burton bill that is getting closer to becoming law with each passing day.

"(If) we have a big benefits increase, there are going to be new laws and new rates, a lot of new things to learn."

If things ever get too crazy, it may be time for Robin to find "a more sedate way of life. If I can’t find that in claims, it’s time to move on!"

Robin would love to work at home, however, but not necessarily on the Peninsula. She and Greg, who’s a central stores specialist for the municipality of Redwood City, have a 6-acre spread in the Gold Country near a town called Volcano.

"It’s kind of like our mental-health place. We love to birdwatch and enjoy seeing all the critters. You can’t see your neighbors and there isn’t much traffic, just a lot of incense cedars and tall pines."

 
 

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