The IMO Success Story – Thirty Years of Healthcare Excellence
The IMO Success Story – Thirty Years of Healthcare Excellence
The success story of Injury Management Organization (IMO) is Catherine Benavidez’s life story. But this success was not handed to her. Catherine began to acquire the necessary drive, business skills, and personal management habits as a child, from her parents. This is when the true IMO story begins, when Catherine was growing up with seven siblings and her parents.
Her parents were self-driven and entrepreneurial. After years of being a plant manager for a ready-mix concrete company, her father started his own trucking company. In the meantime, her mother, a full-time homemaker, and enterprising mother of eight, taught herself to be a seamstress. When asked about her mother, Catherine’s own words reveal much about the traits she inherited from her parents.
“I still marvel at how my mother managed as both a stay-at-home mom of eight and a clothing designer and seamstress for most of my young life,” she said. “I see now that her passion for sewing clothes for her children gave her some quiet enjoyment while raising a large family. My father was also very dedicated to our family, being the main provider. He and my mom always encouraged us to stay focused on being successful in school. While the sisters always had somewhat matching clothes on special occasions, my father and mother were strict on how we used our time, our school activities, and our chores.”
Passion. Dedication. Focus. Strict use of time. Anyone who followed Catherine’s path during the past 30 years would have seen these building blocks of success displayed in everything she said and did then, and still practices today. The gratitude she feels towards her parents goes even further.
“Thanks to their love and work-ethic example, we lacked little in the small town of El Campo, Texas. We were blessed with true family values and a strong faith. We all are independent thinkers and like my parents, I feel like this ‘stay in the game with grit and a can-do attitude’ was ingrained within me as I started my business and while managing its ups/downs during these past thirty years.”
A family legacy of passion, service, and leadership
As it turns out, the seeds of Catherine’s passion to serve and lead might have been planted in her family even before she was born. Six generations ago, in the late 1800’s, one of her ancestors was a Texas Ranger. Those were years when it took solid men of grit and wisdom to tame the Wild West. Her grandfather was a deputy sheriff in Wharton County for over 20 years, while her father was also an auxiliary deputy for more than ten years. Her own brother is a lieutenant with the Houston Police Department. And who could ever forget the superman heroics of her late uncle, Roy Benavidez, U.S. Army, Special Forces veteran. In 1981, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Ronald Reagan.
Catherine grew up surrounded by the influences and stories of these legends, including her father and other uncles who built and ran their own successful businesses in her hometown of El Campo.
She tells it in her own words. “Reflecting now on my family’s history of service, leadership, and entrepreneurship, their example surely made an impact on me to create and lead my own company.”
Also underpinning her success was the high value her parents placed on education. Catherine earned a degree in Occupational Therapy and to this day as a successful entrepreneur, she still maintains her certification as a Certified Case Manager. As a practicing Occupational Therapist, working with musculoskeletal and work-related injuries, she found her niche working directly with employers. She traveled around Texas and California building and managing rehabilitation clinics
After eight years in clinical rehabilitation, with her family support, and in keeping with her family tradition, Catherine decided to launch her own business. At that time, with her first daughter still very young, Catherine’s motivation was to reduce her travel in favor of a balanced life with more time for home and family. Her decision led her first to consulting and then to the launch of IMO. However, seven years later, her life took an emotionally devastating turn. Her divorce left her as a single mother of two young girls, one eight years-old, the other eight months-old.
“With my world temporarily upended, I seriously contemplated going in a different direction,” she said. “Thankfully, I didn’t and today my daughters are both independent thriving young professionals with wonderful husbands who also portray entrepreneurship, passion and strong faith!”
In time, faith also led her to a new husband, James Anderson. “My wonderful husband, my ‘True North’, is responsible for growing our beautiful family and teaching me daily to walk by faith, not by sight!”
But before James came along, one different direction Catherine considered was to become an attorney. She started studying, but soon realized that her mission at that time was to focus on raising her daughters and building her business.
“It was all so overwhelming at times, but my girls kept me focused. I am so happy I did focus on that as it was setting the right priorities early on of raising my family, while establishing the early growth of IMO.”
Catherine never looked back. She surrounded herself with wise mentors and forged forward into the unknown, following her dream. “At times, I felt overwhelmed due to the business stresses. But it taught me to achieve the proper work/life balance. It also allowed me to have precious time with my girls, to stay focused on them and gave me the necessary flexibility to attend all their school and extracurricular activities. I felt I had a win/win situation if things were going smoothly with the business and the girls were healthy and happy.”
The IMO Journey
As a practicing Occupational Therapist since 1982, Catherine recognized that her true passion was in working directly with employers. She loves teaching and remembers how much she enjoyed the rehabilitation clinic setting and working on-site with employers as the owner of IMO.
She laughs when she recalls the reason that she likes the name IMO. “I remember talking to my parents about the business name, Injury Management Organization (IMO), and would tell them that it sounded like ‘Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)’, or ‘Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)’. I had limited knowledge about these organizations 30 years ago, but I loved the ring of the common sounding organizations, like HMO, PPO and IMO.”
The birth of IMO, in May of 1991, led to the anchor services of Medical Case Management, Utilization Review and then Medical Bill Review. The development of new services was largely driven by client needs and the evolution of one service to another. What truly inspired Catherine was connecting providers and employers with the common purpose of helping injured employees with their medical recovery and returning them to safe and productive employment.
One major step forward came in 2005, when the Texas legislature added reforms to the workers’ compensation system in response to rising medical costs and lackluster outcomes. One key reform was to allow the creation of health care networks (HCN).
“Building an HCN in 2005 felt like the obvious and logical next step in IMO’s business evolution. We immediately began to build an IMO provider panel. The IMO name complimented what we stood for: the delivery of quality managed care from the occupational injury perspective.”
Since 2009, IMO’s network, the IMO Med-Select Network®, has been consistently one of the top 3 performing networks in the Texas Department of Insurance Report Card.
Overcoming the challenges and doubts
Catherine is courageously transparent in discussing the doubts and discouragements she faced in the early days. As a young single mother, the questions came daily. “I would often say, ‘can I really do this?’, ‘could I really run a company as a single mom with young girls?’ I was also concerned that the male-dominated workers’ compensation market might not accept a young Hispanic female.”
In her early years, when Hispanic women were expected to stay at home and care for their families, it was frowned upon for her to travel and work with men in the industry. In the regular meetings and conferences that she attended, she would overhear remarks that challenged her confidence and cast doubts on her ability to build a company.
“But each doubt and challenge I experienced gave me the determination to move one step forward! I look back now, and it amazes me how far we have come. Today we can celebrate the progress of women and minority leadership in the business marketplace.”
Catherine is quite clear that her faith, family support and positive mentors provided her the strength to keep going. “I learned early on that trust and like-mindedness brought out the most enjoyable relationship with clients. We always had more rewarding relationships with clients that believed in our ability, versus those who wanted to work with us just to gain the affirmative/minority bid points.”
She recalls from the early years how a well-known client proposed that they work together, simply for them to benefit from IMO’s minority status. The client even insisted that one condition for this new relationship was that IMO would be excluded from bidding with anyone else. What truly stung Catherine was the suggestion that IMO’s growth could only come from its minority status, while the client’s successful legacy came from her own merits. “I was offended, and told her so, but not with anger. Instead, I asked for us to pray together to receive God’s guidance in our businesses. After we prayed, she apologized for misunderstanding what IMO was all about. Once we cleared the air, we went on to win mutual bids.”
Catherine and IMO have always remained focused on building a solid identity of quality service, rather than on color or minority leverage. “When I reflect back, I realize now that diversity inclusion and its challenges always played a part in my business journey experience. I learned to allow the industry to experience the ‘servant’ partner attitude we strive for. Our cornerstone is quality managed care with guaranteed outcomes.”
Faith, the anchor for hard times
Catherine readily acknowledges that, as a result of having praying parents, faith has always been an anchor for the hard times. “Every business owner, single mom or risk taker faces challenges. As humans we all face challenging times, but those times make us stronger and wiser. It starts with the attitude that your faith will see you through uncertain times. I am not sure how I could have gone through tough times without my faith and prayers. The scripture that I memorized and rehearsed during the storms was, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).’”
The Recession of 2008 -2012 brought many businesses to their knees and presented Catherine with a new series of challenges as well. During this time, the Texas House Bill 7 reforms, enacted in 2005, had begun to take shape in the industry, allowing the formation of Health Care Networks to tackle the underperformance of the workers’ compensation system. Her decision to develop an HCN with all the required innovations, called for significant costs, as well as a great investment of people and time.
“Despite the timing, I felt it was the best way to demonstrate our uniqueness in the marketplace. While there were some close friends and business advocates discouraging me from developing the HCN, due to the expense of venturing into unknown territory, we decided to organically grow the health care network, instead of outsourcing to an older provider panel.”
This approach delayed the network’s implementation during turbulent times: recession, pending carrier contracts, and the untimely move due to the lease expiration. “We almost doubled our office space, from six thousand square feet and to eleven thousand square feet. What a scare and a crazy risk!”
The high risk of the move, coupled with the vulnerable time, presented Catherine with some of her darkest days, but her faith and her dream kept her forging ahead into uncharted waters. She is also abundantly clear that her employees helped make the transition a success. “Our employees were resilient and loyal through those five rocky years.”
The IMO experience also taught Catherine that while decisions were made in faith and daily challenges were overcome one step at a time, business growth took time. The network environment was untested, and the industry was slow to respond to the network opportunities, despite the potential savings and improved medical care. She recalled the long waits for bids and the extraordinary patience to realize returns from the network investments. Always close to her prayerful roots, she explains how she and the IMO staff rode the waves of doubt.
“Through our faith, prayer and unity of people and favor, we built up and survived as we met financial and growth obligations and opportunities. Our HCN – IMO Med-Select Network® was launched in 2009 and we developed it from 2005 to 2009 during this most challenging recession, we held on to our hope and endurance to run the race. Our motto was ‘build and it will come.’”
And they did. IMO’s first network carrier was the City of Dallas in 2009, a premier City that is still a network partner after more than ten years. To Catherine, it has been rewarding to see IMO’s hard work result in a partnership that takes care of its first responders and other departments of the city. “It became a reality,” she observed. “The vision, the difficult work, and the long hours paid off. We now have an efficient health care network that delivers its promises of medical cost reduction and quality care at the same time.”
It has been Catherine’s vision that carriers become more aware that using a network like IMO, organically grown, and managed cohesively without any outsourcing or unbundling, provides the best cost-effective results. Not surprisingly, other public and private industry entities soon joined IMO’s HCN. Today, the company is even more prepared for additional growth.
Always thinking ahead, Catherine combines her hope and business strategy for the future. “We want to continue to demonstrate to other carriers that the benefits of quality medical care and cost-effective outcomes far outweigh the cost to access the network.”
The bright moments: Lessons of Success
Catherine’s success story with IMO would be incomplete without acknowledging the key people who provided her with valuable mentorship, friendship, and encouragement over the years, especially in the early days. In addition, she credits client feedback for much of the business strides and innovations. “Almost every infrastructural improvement or new service that IMO delivers were organically grown and developed with client input and intervention. It has been a great experience to see our win-win philosophy in action, delivering great results for our clients at every opportunity.”
Catherine is generous in her praise and appreciation for the people who helped her company succeed. These include loyal employees who serve IMO’s clients with pride and quality customer service, but these also include personal and business mentors who provided her with valuable discernment and wisdom. Her gratitude to the people in her life shines through when she speaks of them (see Acknowledgments, Page 8).
“While hardships are never easy, the stamina and drive to keep going come from the people we work for and the people who work for us. When we take care of our people, they take care of us. That approach has never failed me.”
Jane Stone, successful attorney and one of Catherine’s early mentors, reflects on IMO’s stellar reputation in the managed care community. “Due to Catherine’s leadership, IMO is a model of integrity and quality in the services they provide to their clients. I look forward to many more years of working together with the IMO team.”
Another colleague and mentor, Julie Shank, who befriended Catherine about thirty years ago, also shares her observations of the early days. “Catherine had vision, optimism, knowledge, professionalism and leadership to grow her company. But what she had most was the intangible attribute of ‘caring’. She cared about everyone: patients, clients, staff, family and friends.”
Sharing the IMO success is also an extension of Catherine’s caring and generosity. IMO tithes 20 percent of its quarterly profits to community causes such as efforts to fight poverty, homelessness, and human trafficking. The company also donates to veteran causes and to organizations defending religious freedoms.
Eyes on the future
As IMO celebrates its 30 years, the company is excited about focusing on growth and developing a forward-thinking mindset. The key objectives are to diversify its services, grow geographically and find stable and like-minded partners to grow together. Toward that end, IMO seeks to capitalize on technological advancement, build a web-based Network and invest in their Utilization Review and Case Management proprietary software called the SmartCat™. The goal is to provide automated features that combine cost and performance analytics, which can then support effective management for IMO’s client partners and superior care for their injured employees.
IMO invests in top security and technological upgrades that would allow seamless integration with client systems. IMO has also strategically expanded into the 118 most populated counties that account for 95 percent of the state’s working population. Its telemedicine program, developed in 2019, can potentially provide triage and primary care services to injured employees across the entire state.
As the direct result of an employer think-tank session, IMO also launched the Lighthouse Resource Group (LRG) in 2020. This IMO subsidiary leverages business consulting in team development, executive coaching, and diversity inclusion training among other resource tools for employers (LighthouseResourceGroup.com).
IMO strives to provide quality managed care services emphasizing integrity, expertise and teamwork. Catherine’s vision for the company is crystal clear. “Servant leadership is our foundation, and it is our goal to represent these characteristics in all areas of business. Our people make it happen!”
IMO’s Success Facts
- Launched its proprietary health care network in 2009 with a select medical panel.
- Launched a unique telemedicine program in 2019.
- The IMO Med-Select Network® has the lowest average medical cost for lost-time claims in Texas.
- The IMO Med-Select Network® has the top return-to- work rate (98%) in Texas.
- All Managed Care Services organically grown and function off an IMO proprietary software, SmartCat™.
- Delivers cost-effective and outcome-focused Telephonic and Field Case Management Services.
- Launched a subsidiary Business Consulting Solutions called the Lighthouse Resource Group in 2020.
- Launched the E-Intelemed Services – An Early Intervention 24/7 Telephonic approach in 2020.
- Approved to cover the most populated 118 Texas counties (95% of the state’s population).
- Expansion Plans for 2021: Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Illinois, and Colorado.
On this the 30th anniversary of IMO’s founding, I still hold dear those who had the greatest impact on IMO’s success. There are many more, but here are just a few of those who played such important roles in my life.
— Larry Edwards, deceased a number of years ago but was an influential and respected leader with Texas Employers. He was also a valued mentor to many, including me. But he was also a dear friend and encourager. I returned the favor and encouraged him to go out on his own when he retired. Larry was present when I was going through the divorce and was such an inspiration and positive influencer to help me and the business remain on a steadfast road, one day at a time.
— Julie Shank, retired but was an inspiration working with IMO for the early years of our Health Care Network development. Her nursing expertise, leadership, and wisdom were all instrumental in overcoming our steep learning curve on how to apply the HCN managed care model to effectively contain cost and improve medical outcomes. The HCN had Julie’s footprint on our original concept of formation and foundation. Julie encouraged me to build up our services such as Medical Bill Review. I credit her with introducing me to Donna Ramsey in 2004. Donna is today one of IMO’s Vice Presidents.
— Jane Stone, still a well-known Workers’ Compensation legal expert in Texas, IMO has trusted and treasured the relationship with Jane for the past 25 years. Jane and Julie were my two advocates, supporters and encouragers to build the network organically. Jane meticulously reviewed every contract, marketing material, protocol for the network to ensure that I had the right tools in place. We utilized her many times at IMO, including onsite visits at our Plano office to update staff on new laws and regulations. Jane was and has always been a security blanket to ensure we were safe and protected with the right legal advice.
— Lucy Dominguez, I have known Lucy since 1994, 27 years ago! Lucy was a nonsubscriber client, and we were her partner handling her cases. Today she is our VP of Business Development at IMO with over 30 years of Human Resource experience, she has been a friend, and confidant in times of trouble and sharing the times of triumph!
I also credit the wonderful commitment and loyalty of our people, our staff. Especially those committed to run the race for the long haul! It is really a blessing to work with such passionate people and live life with them. While my thanks go out to all those who have worked with IMO, I have several employees who have been with IMO for more than 15 years, and I would like to extend a few words of appreciation to them:
— Theresa Benavidez, one of my sisters, she worked for IMO for 24 years before retiring. She was a steadfast and loyal supporter in the launch of our case management transcription with reports and led that effort for the full tenure of her years with IMO.
— Sherry Brown, 25 years with IMO. Currently Manager of Provider Education and Account Services, Sherry has been an epitome of wonderful leadership in whatever role she has played and very soon will be one of our new account managers.
— Donna Ramsey has been with IMO for 17 years. She started our Medical Bill Review department in 2004 and now is our Vice President of Client Services. Donna is a true expression of loyalty, quality and expertise. Her compassionate customer service and managed care knowledge is unprecedented.
— Dawn Bergerson, one of IMO’s earliest employees, gave 23 years of loyal service to IMO. Her Occupational Therapy background was instrumental in shaping IMO’s mission to return injured employees to safe and productive employment.
There are several other key employees who have been with us for well over 10 years and I have to say that when we use the expression that we are the IMO Family, we are!