By Alvin Finkel
If you have an injury at work but it’s fixable and you can return to work in a relatively short time, the workers’ compensation program will likely work out OK for you.
If your injury is long-term and particularly life-long and a return to work is simply impossible, the Workers’ Compensation Board is set up to eat you alive. If your doctors rule that you have chronic, crippling pain that makes performance of even simple tasks an extreme challenge, the case managers at the WCB who get bonuses for limiting costs to the WCB will claim that they are wrong and that your pain is localized and there are jobs that you can do. They generally have no medical background at all and yet feel competent to ignore what your physicians tell them as simply “biased” because of their “sympathy” for you.
A Supreme Court decision in 2003 ruled that Nova Scotia’s Board had erred in ruling that chronic pain was not a real diagnosis and ordered back pay to all applicants for workers’ compensation who had been denied ongoing aid because of the Board rejecting a diagnosis of chronic pain.
Someone whose case with whom I am very familiar had a work injury ten years ago that has left her in such terrible pain that almost every day it is a struggle to just get out of bed. Her generalized pain has cost her her teeth, her mobility, her ability to sleep properly, and much more. She has been very active in the injured workers’ movement and in her view that has caused the WCB to be particularly vindictive in their treatment of her.
She had four neurologists confirm to the WCB that she is unable to work and has had an unprecedented four medical panels confirm that diagnosis. I’ve read the diagnoses and they are unmistakeable. Somehow though the case managers have just ignored all of that and claimed that she could be working as a parking lot attendant (a job category that doesn’t really exist and, in any case, requires someone who can sit for long periods and who can, when necessary, move heavy objects, criteria that would easily exclude this individual). Over the past 10 years the Board has been on again, off again, about paying her for lost income or paying medical bills, mostly off again.
She wrote me today that she is losing “my nursing care, home care, medication, dental hospital and ambulance service.” That will cost her so much that she “won’t be able to pay housing, forget groceries.”
The WCB is not reformable. WCBs have been captured by the employers who pay into the fund and want to keep their payments small. While many employers are aghast at how their own injured workers have been treated by the Board, they collectively have an interest in maintaining an anti-worker status quo.
It’s not usual to read on Change Alberta that we want a government agency to be shut down (other than the “war room”). We oppose austerity. But this is not about austerity. It’s about social justice, something virtually all WCBs care nothing about.
So what should replace the WCB? I would advocate critical care insurance, which would be incorporated into medicare rather than being part of an employer-dominated agency. It would extend the ambit of insurance for critical injuries beyond the workplace–the individual in question had her life altered by tripping over a misplaced carpet, something that could happen to you in your own home or in a mall. The payouts could be the same as what WCB now pays but eligibility, including how long someone might collect, would be totally in the hands of physicians. The insurance, like all medicare-covered services, would be financed from general revenues. That would remove the unpleasant reality that a WCB has to serve two masters at once: injured workers and dues-paying employers.
Get the WCB clerks out of the picture and put all power in the hands of medical people. The conviction among WCB employees that long-term injured people are just fakers is a rationalization based on no medical evidence. Let’s not have lives put in the hands of people who have prejudices but limited or no medical training. This is really something that needs to be determined by physicians.