AMHERST, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
SELECT COMMITTEE ON
THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT
Mr. Michael Baker
MS. ROSEMARY GODIN (Madam Chairman): Could I have everyone take their seats, please. I would like to welcome everyone here tonight and thank you for coming out on a Wednesday night to be here with us. Our Chairman is Michael Baker and he is on his way here. My name is Rosemary Godin and I will chair until Mr. Baker comes.
We are all members of an all-Party select committee that has been travelling the province. We have been listening to the public and asking for your ideas and your thoughts on the workers' compensation system. We understand we have several presenters here tonight and we are asking that the presenters try to limit their time to about 15 minutes because we would like to have everybody able to have their say tonight and we are never quite sure how many we are going to have. We certainly do want to hear anything that you have to say.
Before we start, we will introduce ourselves to you. We will start with Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
[Gordon Johnson, Legislative Counsel, introduced himself.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We are travelling with consultants and I will ask our consultants to introduce themselves, please.
[The committee consultants introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We are also travelling with Kim Sheppard, and Doug Hadley in the blue shirt back there. If you have any questions during the evening, you can just approach Kim or Doug and they will help you.
Before we start, I understand that Mr. Terry Rhindress would like to say something. Mr. Rhindress, if you could come forward, please. Everything is being taped. There is a list here, I believe, at the back. If you would like to get a transcript of tonight's proceedings, just put your name and address on the back.
MR. TERRY RHINDRESS: My name is Terry Rhindress. I am the President of the Cumberland District Labour Council. This is my 12th year. I would like to thank the Workers' Compensation Board for coming to Amherst to hear the people of Cumberland County and we would like to thank our MLA, Ernie Fage, for the help he brought to the Amherst injured workers so they can have their say tonight. I hope these people can go back and help these people because these people need it. It has been a long while coming and I thank you all for coming.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Rhindress.
Our first presenter this evening is Gary Noiles. Mr. Noiles, because we are being recorded, could you say your name before you start and introduce what community you are from.
MR. GARY NOILES: Madam Chairman, and committee members. I am Gary James Noiles, Claim No. 1601356 from Springhill. I suffer from extreme chronic pain, specifically myofascial pain which was the result of my industrial accident which occurred September 13, 1995. I have professional medical documentation from Dr. Ken Chisholm, MD, FRCPC of the Pain Management Clinic of the QE II to support my claim which you have in front of you. I received full WCB benefits from September 14, 1995 up to June 11, 1996 at which time I was denied all WCB benefits. From that time to present, it has been an ongoing, stress-filled struggle.
I was directed by the WCB to see four specialists, Dr. Erdogan, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Morgan Sinclair and then Dr. Johntson, who finally referred me to Dr. Ken Chisholm of the Pain Management Clinic, which was who my family doctor thought I should have seen from the start but was overpowered by the WCB. By this time, 18 months had elapsed. Also, by the time I seen Dr. Chisholm, the damage from my accident, September 13, 1995, was unrepairable due to the time lapse and lack of proper medical attention which was confirmed by Dr. Ken Chisholm at the time of my first assessment. He informed me that the best we could hope for was to make my chronic pain more bearable. He also told me, at this time, that he was sick and tired of the people being given the run-around by the WCB before finally receiving the proper medical assistance which should have been received from the start for patients with extreme chronic pain. I have received no assistance of any type - financial,
medical or travel expenses - from the WCB since June 11, 1996 to the present and then medication. Would you like to see it sir?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Could you pass it around.
MR. NOILES: That is the medication that I have been paying, through my spouse. Her plan has paid for this. Medication is covered by my spouse when it should be covered by the WCB and then the experimental drug, Neuronton, which cost $113 per month, out of my pocket, which Dr. Chisholm said, I will have to take the rest of my life, to help make the chronic pain more bearable. It is not covered by my spouse's plan. I have also endured numerous side effects from various medications.
I would like it to be noted, since June 11, 1996, the financial and mental stress that has been put on myself and my spouse by the WCB is totally inhumane. Also, poor legal service under referral of the WCB old system, poor legal assistance from the Workers' Advisers Program under the new system. What if we could make the WCB accountable for the disruption and loss they have caused in so many lives? Would the whole process take so long? The decision has to be made by the Legislature that it is absolutely essential that the benefit of the doubt be given to the worker and the appeal process should be streamlined.
Committee members, my next appeal before the tribunal is May 28, 1999. I ask you, who is playing God with mine and so many other lives? Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Noiles, if you could just sit down for a second. There may be some questions that we have to ask you. So you have an appeal in the system and the date you have been given is not until May 28, 1999.
MR. NOILES: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You said you have had legal help under the old system and you have it under the workers' adviser system and you haven't been satisfied with either system, then?
MR. NOILES: No, and that legal document of the doctor's, there, he informed the old system lawyer, which the WCB referred me to, and it says right in there about what I went through and that and had no satisfaction. The new system, I had Mr. Kevin Deveaux there, and then he won the election and ever since, I had a Christina Schultz-Allen, 16 weeks I had her, 13 weeks she was either absent, on leave or they couldn't find her. The last time I phoned down there, she was no longer working for the workers' advisory so I don't even have a lawyer now.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: At any time was the offer made that a workers' adviser would come here to Amherst?
MR. NOILES: No.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So you have always gone to Halifax or phoned?
MR. NOILES: I was there twice, and yes, by phone.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do any of the members have questions? Mr. [Charles] MacDonald?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Gary, what was the nature? Was it a back injury?
MR. NOILES: Back, neck and shoulder. I fell off a trailer, 10.5 feet to 11 feet off a tractor trailer. I was walking down a gangway and it let go and I came down on my right side.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage.
MR. ERNEST FAGE: Gary, you are in the WCAT appeal process. Have you gone through one appeal or are you in the leave to appeal process with WCAT?
MR. NOILES: Oh, I have been through, I don't even know where we are at now. The tribunal, I think it is the final, is May 28, 1999 and I have just been denied all the way through.
MR. FAGE: I think that highlights some of the problem because if there is one common thing, many people aren't sure where they are in the process. All they know is that they are in the process and it is a long one.
MR. NOILES: And I don't even have a lawyer now.
MR. FAGE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Gary, if you had but one recommendation to pass on to us that would help the system out a bit, what would that be?
MR. NOILES: The WCB is playing with so many people's lives. In your job, if you do something wrong, management will straighten you out in some way. Down there, they don't even have to answer to anybody. I haven't phoned them in almost two years because I was always directed to this one and they were out, they were in the field. In two years, I have not heard from them at all, except for written correspondence.
MR. DEWOLFE: So accountability would be a big priority in your mind.
MR. NOILES: If I do something wrong, I have to take the blunt of it, why shouldn't they?
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes, I understand, exactly. Thank you very much, Gary.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Deveaux.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Nice to see you again, Gary.
MR. NOILES: Thank you.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I just have a couple of questions. I think Mr. Fage was asking something, I am not clear, with regard to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal. Have you already received one decision from them and now you are on to the second decision?
MR. NOILES: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: That second decision, is it a hearing you have set for May 25th, is it? The 28th?
MR. NOILES: May 28th.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Is it a hearing?
MR. NOILES: I don't even know because this last lawyer I had had everything and then, bang, she was gone. I don't even know where I am in the system now.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Have they sent back your file or do they plan on reassigning you another lawyer?
MR. NOILES: I have heard nothing in the last two to three weeks.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: With regard to the Workers' Compensation Board, what was their rationale for cutting you off back in June 1996? What did they say was the rationale for it?
MR. NOILES: They said I should return to work and my family doctor, Dr. Bruce Filliter, was trying to get me, the compensation kept sending me to orthopaedic surgeons when I should have been going to the Pain Management Clinic, but they just kept overpowering him the whole time.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So basically it was a dispute between your own medical advisers, the doctors and specialists, and what the board was saying.
MR. NOILES: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: With regard to that, is it accepted by everyone that it is chronic pain or myofascial pain that you are suffering from?
MR. NOILES: Do they accept it?
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Do your doctors say it is chronic pain as well?
MR. NOILES: Yes, it is all documented in that that I have before you.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I haven't had a chance to look at it; I didn't get a copy, sorry. With regard to the chronic pain, more recently, have you gotten any letters from workers' compensation saying that your decision may be delayed because it is chronic pain? Have they written you any letters saying that?
MR. NOILES: I think I got one, maybe three months ago, where they were waiting for the Legislature, oh, no, when Judith Ferguson was notified by whoever in Halifax that they shouldn't make any decisions until the legislation took place.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: If I told you that was the Minister of Labour who told her not to do that, would that be right?
MR. NOILES: That would be him, yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So basically though, it says May 28, 1999, is when your decision is supposed to be made, and since then you have gotten a letter saying that it could be delayed further, is that right?
MR. NOILES: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I just want to clarify one point that Ms. Godin had asked. When I originally met with you, do you remember where we met?
MR. NOILES: Yes, in Truro.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you. Those are all my questions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do any of the consultants have any questions? Mr. Noiles, thank you very much for coming tonight.
MR. NOILES: Thank you for hearing me.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Dave McManaman.
MR. DAVID MCMANAMAN: Good evening. My name is John David McManaman. My claim number is 1558374 and I reside in Springhill, Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Go ahead, Mr. McManaman.
MR. MCMANAMAN: On December 21, 1993, while employed with Corrections Canada, I was involved in an incident where I felt serious harm or even death was about to happen. From what I have been told, it was probably my years of experience in negotiating skills that is the reason I am alive today. Although I was fortunate enough to get through the ordeal, I have experienced problems emotionally. Two days after the incident, I ended up in hospital and was assigned to Dr. Ryan, Chief of Psychiatry for Cumberland County. From January 1994 until July 1996, I was a patient of Dr. Ryan up until his retirement.
When I applied for workers' compensation, I was initially denied. This decision was appealed and with further medical documentation, I was granted six weeks benefits. Due to my medical condition, I was forced to retire in November 1994, after 30 years with the federal government. The Workers' Compensation Board has, on two different occasions, sent me to Halifax, just recently, September 2, 1998, for an independent assessment with a psychiatrist. Both reports stated permanent disability.
The incident was in 1993, approximately five years ago, and having been assessed by three different psychiatrists, who all say my condition is permanent, I feel it is past due for a closure to this particular case. Having been a good employee for 30 years with an excellent work record, I am certainly amazed at the way I have been treated by a certain few people at the Workers' Compensation Board, when I feel they think they are untouchable and unaccountable to anyone.
Thank you for hearing my concerns. If you would take some time to look at the documentation I have from three different psychiatrists, I would appreciate it. I gave the reports to Kim when I came in.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I was going to ask if you did. The reports are good, but do you also have letters from the WCB telling you why they have denied your claim?
MR. MCMANAMAN: They actually haven't denied it. It has been five years. I went to Dr. Ryan for two and a half years. I had a hearing in Amherst with the compensation board, where my appeal was allowed pending further medical documentation, which was presented to them. A year ago September, they sent me to Dr. John MacDonald, a psychiatrist in Halifax, and he made some recommendations, by taking anxiety courses, upping my medication. I fulfilled all this. As recently as August, I got another letter saying they wanted me taken to Halifax, which was on September 2nd of this year for a re-evaluation. He said the doctor gave me the letter that there has to be closure to this case. This guy is an independent assessor, who they sent me to.
This is three different psychiatrists now that I have been to in five years, and to be honest with you and the committee, I don't know if the ordeal I was put through at the institution was worse than the one the compensation board is putting me through. I truly and firmly believe that for the 30 years of service I gave them, I shouldn't be treated like this.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do you have a workers' adviser?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes and no. They paid on two different occasions for me. The first appeal, they allowed up to $1,200, then they gave another $1,200. As it goes right now, I am going it on my own. My problem is, I can't get a lawyer to represent me, because I can't get a decision. How can I appeal something when I can't get a decision? It will be five years in December. After 30 years with the federal government, I just can't believe. I think my record speaks for itself. When I went to the psychiatrist, he asked me my age, what my education was, and what it would take to retrain me. I would be on Canada Pension anyway. I do get Canada Pension disability.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage, do you have a question?
MR. FAGE: Yes. That was going to be my next question. Have you had any problem getting on disability or their accepting your claim with Canada Pension?
MR. MCMANAMAN: No, sir. I have been drawing Canada Pension disability with the back time since December 1995.
MR. FAGE: Are you still with the workers' compensation, trying to get a decision out of them, or are you with the WCAT and Judith Ferguson in the appeal process?
MR. MCMANAMAN: No. I am with the Workers' Compensation Board. I had three years air force time that would have meant another 6 per cent of my pension, when I was ready to retire. I can't even buy that back, because I can't pass a medical now. That is three years time that I served, not three years that I signed up for. That is three years that I served. I had pretty near 31 years total service, and I am only 54 years old now, so I didn't lay around from the time I left school, I worked from day one.
MR. FAGE: Absolutely.
MR. MCMANAMAN: And was a good employee. All my work records would indicate that, up until this incident.
MR. FAGE: What was your last contact with the workers' advisory system?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Two years.
MR. FAGE: It has been two years since you talked to one?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes. To them, but I mean, I am in contact with the Workers' Compensation Board all the time. What they are saying now, up until this last letter where they sent me to Halifax, just on September 2nd, they said that no decision has been made, because they want me re-evaluated. I have been to three different psychiatrists now. What more? That is the end, I am not going anywhere else. Enough is enough. If they don't believe me, surely to God they should believe the independent people that they are sending me to. I didn't request to go there.
MR. FAGE: In the situation of the workers' advisory, they have not been actively advising you or helping you prepare your case for the workers' compensation?
MR. MCMANAMAN: I guess the biggest drawback I have with that, the workers' adviser that I had, point blank told me that she is not familiar with the Workers' Compensation Act, what I am entitled to, what I am not entitled to, what I am supposed to be fighting for. I am not fighting for a whole lot. I am 56 per cent when I should be drawing 70 per cent. I would have had 35 years' service paid up in March of this year. And 14 per cent of $44,000 a year, at that time, to me is $4,000 a year.
MR. FAGE: There have been a lot of comments about questionable advice from workers' advisers. We have heard that as a common thread, certainly, through the system, whether they are qualified to make that decision, and then giving advice to take settlements of low value that certainly some claimants question. It must be extremely difficult for you to know where to turn if decisions won't be made, and sound advice is hard to come by.
MR. MCMANAMAN: And I can't get any legal advice, because they haven't turned me down. All I want is closure, after five years, and 30 years there, I just want closure.
MR. FAGE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Kevin] Deveaux.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I have a couple of questions. First, you say you have seen three psychiatrists?
MR. MCMANAMAN: That is correct.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay. How many of them are psychiatrists that were people that the board asked you to see? How many did they ask you to see?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Dr. MacDonald, from Fenwick Towers, on two occasions I went to him, because he is an independent assessor. When I had my initial problem, I went to Dr. Ryan, who was the Chief Psychiatrist in Cumberland County, the only one we have.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Dr. Ryan?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Edmond Ryan. I went to him for two and a half years, because he is the only one, well there is two, Dr. Gill, but I couldn't get to him because he was busy, but I have been to him since. When they took me to Halifax to Dr. MacDonald, he recommended that I do some things, and then I was referred to Dr. Gill. Dr. Gill assessed me, and sent it to the board. Then the board sent me another letter to go down to Dr. MacDonald again for another reassessment, which I just had two weeks ago. I have a copy of it here, if anybody is interested.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So you have seen Dr. Ryan, Dr. MacDonald . . .
MR. MCMANAMAN: Twice.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: That is the three assessments?
MR. MCMANAMAN: No. And Dr. Gill.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Dr. Gill.
MR. MCMANAMAN: But Dr. MacDonald twice. He is the independent assessment that the board sent me to.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Independent in the sense that the board sent you to someone?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes. Twice.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay. With regard to that, did they all agree with the diagnosis as to your condition?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Basically the board has three opinions in front of it, and they all confirm that you have been diagnosed with something.
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I don't have the documents in front of me.
MR. MCMANAMAN: Post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I take medication. I take a drug twice a day for my anxiety.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Is the board paying for your medication, even?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Well, they were. I send the bills in to them. What happened was, they compensated me for six weeks, compensation. I was diagnosed by a Dr. Dobson from the workers' compensation on paper, never have I been diagnosed by anybody from their board, but he diagnosed me and said I should have went back to work after the six weeks. I tried to go back to my job, they wouldn't let me go back. I wanted to go back to work, and my doctor says no, and my employer at the Penitentiary Service said my job was still there, but until I could get medical clearance.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I think that is a familiar story with Dr. Dobson.
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes. He is not there anymore, by the way.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: No. I think he has finally retired. With regards to that situation though, you have three opinions basically all diagnosing you with the same thing. What does the board say is the reason for the delay then?
MR. MCMANAMAN: The last member I heard was a Mr. James Keyes, the hearing officer that overlooked my whole case. He said there were some inconsistencies in Dr. Ryan's reports at that time, and to be fair to me as the claimant and them as the board, that is why they took me down for an independent assessment.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: You had a hearing in front of Mr. Keyes recently?
MR. MCMANAMAN: No. Just paper.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Paper. And what was the date of that?
MR. MCMANAMAN: February of this year.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: February 1998. And he still hasn't made a decision.
MR. MCMANAMAN: The reason that they didn't give me a decision at that time is, when I went to Dr. MacDonald, he made some recommendations that I come to Amherst under a psychiatrist or psychologist and take some anxiety group courses, which I took all last winter, then I would be re-evaluated after that. So I was to Halifax two weeks ago, and I was re-evaluated again, and Dr. MacDonald says, that is it for me, as far as he was concerned. Now what the compensation board wants to do with me after his recommendations, he has no idea.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: To get to a hearing officer, you had to appeal a decision though?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: What decision were you appealing?
MR. MCMANAMAN: That they only gave me temporary benefits for six weeks. Then I had a hearing at the Wandlyn in Amherst with the lawyer from the Workers' Compensation Board, Madeleine Hearns, and she said there was more than sufficient evidence to support my claim pending more medical documents. Now they have them. I don't know what more I could do on my behalf to satisfy them.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay. So you had a hearing in front of Ms. Hearns and in front of Mr. Keyes.
MR. MCMANAMAN: No. Just paper.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Paper with Mr. Keyes, but a hearing with Ms. Hearns.
MR. MCMANAMAN: He took my whole case and reviewed it. He is the hearing officer.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Oh, I understand.
MR. MCMANAMAN: He wouldn't make a decision at that time, because I was still undergoing treatment in Amherst last year. But I took the 10 week anxiety course, I take medication twice a day for my problem, and they took me down and re-evaluated me by this Dr. MacDonald. He says, you are permanent, and you are not - I am on Canada Pension disability. You are done.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Getting into the Workers' Advisers Program, Mr. Fage raised a couple of points. You noted that there was $1,200 allotted for you. Who was the lawyer that originally was your lawyer?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Beryl MacDonald from Amherst.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: And that was the person who said they didn't know enough about the Workers' Compensation Act?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Well, she was probably coming from the same place I was, she really wasn't familiar with the Workers' Compensation Act, and everything we first did was probably trial and error.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So, she was under the old system?
MR. MCMANAMAN: I would say. I don't really think, the way that she came across to me, that she had a lot of involvement with people on claims. I wanted to get another person from New Glasgow who had represented some other people that I knew, but I had to take the nearest representation. I couldn't be running to Halifax, Dartmouth in the wintertime, especially.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: She received $2,400 from the government to represent you, but she didn't know . . .
MR. MCMANAMAN: It was $1,200 initially, and then I called the woman from the compensation board, and she said, well, your money has been exhausted, the $1,200. I said, I don't care, I will pay my own way, financially here, I am not worrying about that end of it. Then I received a call from Mrs. MacDonald the next day saying they allotted me another $1,200. There still might be $1,000 of that left, I don't know. But I haven't had any contact with her. They have been directing me where to go, just between myself and them, no copies to anybody else.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Hyland] Fraser.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Just one question, sir. I am just wondering what you were doing, were you a guard?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes. I was with Corrections Canada for 30 years.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Okay. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parker.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: I will call you Dave, it is easier than saying your last name. I was going to ask that question too, what was your job, but in the nature of your work then, you didn't have a physical injury, it was entirely a stressful situation that . . .
MR. MCMANAMAN: It was an incident that broke out that night, I didn't know if I was going to live or die, with 40 inmates.
MR. PARKER: But you didn't suffer a physical injury.
MR. MCMANAMAN: No. Emotionally. After the incident was over, it didn't probably bother me as much then as a couple of days after, everything registered what went on.
MR. PARKER: It played on your mind, the stressful situation.
MR. MCMANAMAN: Exactly. Don't get me wrong, over 30 years I was involved in a lot of incidents, like one on one or two on one, but 35 to one, the odds were a little bit overwhelming. As you get older, I guess, you just can't cope with it.
MR. PARKER: Okay. And you have been diagnosed that you are not able to go back to work.
MR. MCMANAMAN: Exactly.
MR. PARKER: Is there any other type of work that you feel you would be capable of doing?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Well, I suggested that at times, but the psychiatrists say with the medication and stuff I am on, I could be a liability to somebody else.
MR. PARKER: Has the Workers' Compensation Board offered retraining to you, at any time?
MR. MCMANAMAN: No.
MR. PARKER: Or suggested it?
MR. MCMANAMAN: The psychiatrist asked me how old I was and what education I had, to which I said now I am 54 years old. I started in Dorchester when I was a kid, 21 years old after three years' service time. I only had Grade 10 education. Like he said, to send
you to upgrading it would be two years, and then computer or whatever, it would be another three, you will be on Canada Pension anyway.
MR. PARKER: Okay.
MR. MCMANAMAN: In my opinion, I gave them 30 years of good service. I think I have paid my dues. I don't think I am asking for anything I am not entitled to.
MR. PARKER: You are asking for a pension or some benefits from them. You also have Canada Pension. Do you have other family income?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Yes. I get my prison pension, but they took $500-some a month off that, because I am getting Canada Pension. The point that I would like to try to drive across is that I am getting 56 per cent. Had the incident not happened and I had bought my three years service time back in March 1999, I would have been 35 years paid up, which would give me 70 per cent of whatever salary I was making at that time.
MR. PARKER: You are looking for additional benefits from the WCB?
MR. MCMANAMAN: Just to be brought up to where I should be, nothing out of the ordinary. I am just looking for a percentage. I am not sitting here with three or four years' service asking anybody to give me to a 70 per cent pension. I don't really personally believe that anybody should try to retrain me when there are some people who have never worked, and I had over 30 years' service and all shift work.
MR. PARKER: Okay. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do any of the consultants have questions? If I could just make one comment. We have heard a lot of people who have been in the system for so long, in fact far too long, but what has happened is the Workers' Advisers Program was set up two years ago. I detect the move, the change from the old system that the previous speaker was talking about to the new system has been anything but seamless and clean. My concern or what I would ask is that anybody who hasn't dealt with a workers' adviser for the last many months should actually call them again, because sometimes I wonder if you have workers' advisers to help you through this system. Sometimes it sounds like you are not getting the service that they are supposed to provide, and I wonder if you have gone to the right place.
MR. MCMANAMAN: If I could just add to that a little bit. I guess my biggest drawback is, there is no time-frame. The point that I would like to make, Mr. DeWolfe asked Mr. Noiles previously, what recommendations could be made. I know decisions can't be made overnight, I know things take a lot of time, but to me, there should be a time-frame. I am not asking the compensation board to believe what I am saying, but for God's sake, when they send me to three different psychiatrists, are they not going to believe them? There should be
a time-frame. There should be a closure. It has been five years. I have been more than patient, as far as I am concerned.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. McManaman. Verna Thompson.
MS. VERNA THOMPSON: My name is Verna Thompson, 1435680, I think is my number. I am not prepared for this. I thought it was going to be a one-on-one thing, so I am kind of flattered, not flattered but anyway I was injured in 1990, my right arm, acute tennis elbow is what it was diagnosed as. I did not respond to any treatments, cortisone, therapy, whatever. I ended up having surgery on it. Workers' compensation really didn't want to pay me for any of this time, but they did pay me. They decided I should go back to work, that I had had enough time off. The doctor said, no, he didn't want me to even try it until June. They put me back the 1st of April. I re-injured it, and in 1991, I had the second surgery on it.
They paid me off and on, bits and pieces, and I had a workers' adviser twice. It was the same one but he just transferred. They got my payments re-instated on two occasions. The doctor says I can't do this type of work anymore. Anything that is repetitive, I cannot do, or lifting or whatever. They say, there is no reason why I can't do it. They finally cut me off permanently two years ago. I had a hearing last year, and I got their final word this year, that they feel that I am perfectly capable of working as a cashier, which I think is kind of repetitious.
I told them I can't do this, but anyway, they haven't paid me a cent for two years. At the present time, I do have a workers' adviser. I met with them on July 7th, I think it was, Jane Spurr is her name. I haven't heard anything from her recently, but I did have a phone conversation with her that said they have given me another appeal date, or something, I don't know when it is.
Since 1990, they haven't paid one bit of attention whatsoever to doctors' reports. First they said six weeks is long enough to be off with this thing. Then they say, well after 10 months, that is more than enough time. They haven't paid attention whatsoever. The doctor says I can't do this type of work, they say I can, and not only can I do it when the jobs aren't available, I am supposed to be able to work anywhere between Truro and Moncton at two part-time jobs to get my 40 hours in.
They did pay a tutor for me one night a week to get my GED because I only had a Grade 9 education when I went to work. When I asked them for further retraining, like I wanted to do something maybe that didn't require the use of my arm, I really was interested in child psychology, and they just plain told me that I didn't make enough money when I was working to warrant any further than the GED. So they really haven't offered me any retraining skills.
Manual labour is out of the question and with a GED what am I supposed to do? It just can't be done. I had the same problem with my left arm which they just said, well, no wonder, you were using it too much. Well, you have to use it. When you can't use one, you got to use the other. So really I have two arms that aren't really and my biggest complaint is they just don't pay attention to doctors. I really think they should sit down and look and say, well, the doctor says you can't do it. They also told me that there is no compensation for pain. You can have all the pain you want. We can't see it so we can't compensate you for it. I would like one of them to go through what I go through. I am just sort of fed up. It has been a long time but they give me nothing. I do have my Canada Pension disability which is very small, of course, because I didn't make big wages. I was a meat wrapper at first, from 1980 to 1982. Then I became a meat cutter. It is pretty heavy work but it doesn't pay big money either.
I would just like them to, you know, it is not going to kill them to give me a couple of hundred bucks a month, I don't think, but they made their decision last year. I think it was in March they made their final decision, of this year, March or May, one or the other. I was prepared. I could have had this all written down but my memory - I guess that's it. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Thompson. At the time of your injury, is that what you were doing, you were working as a meat cutter?
MS. THOMPSON: Meat cutter and wrapper both, yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: But they have told you that you could go back to work as a cashier?
MS. THOMPSON: Yes. Yes, that's one point I missed. When I did go back to work, I was injured in 1990, I went back to work before I was supposed to in 1991, I went back as a cashier and reinjured my arm. They still say that's what I should be able to do.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I am sitting here and I want to say, of course you reinjured your arm. You had an acute tennis elbow and they wanted you to be a cashier.
MS. THOMPSON: And they still want me to.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes. So you're quite willing to be retrained but they have said that they don't want to retrain you?
MS. THOMPSON: When I asked them, they haven't said anything like that to me lately. They did ask me to go to a pain management course, or something like that, which I didn't go. I said, you know, what's the point? Tylenol helps it a bit.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: But you did express an interest to WCB in being retrained as something else?
MS. THOMPSON: Yes, and I even went so far as to go for an interview on Pictou Campus to take this course but I soon realized I probably wouldn't be able to do it anyway because there was an awful lot of writing and computer type stuff which is rather repetitious too. So that sort of flawed that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Thompson. Are there any questions? Mr. [Kevin] Deveaux.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: It was actually more of a comment. I know where you're coming from with regard to the problem and I will give you an example of how ludicrous the Workers' Compensation Act can be. If you don't mind me asking, how much were you making as a meat cutter?
MS. THOMPSON: $7.00
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: $7.00 an hour and you had a Grade 9 education at the time?
MS. THOMPSON: Yes.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So the board basically gave you enough training, under their theory, this is how it works, they give you enough training so that now they feel you can go back out and make $7.00 an hour again. They don't have to train you to make anything more than that. Was that your understanding of how they proceeded?
MS. THOMPSON: That's right. That is exactly right.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: And there are people out there, for example, who have maybe a Grade 6 education who work on fishing boats and made $50,000 a year and those people now would have to go through university and so on to be retrained in order just to be able to make as much money. So really someone like yourself who is eager to be retrained and wants to be retrained is not given the opportunity because of the job you were in originally?
MS. THOMPSON: Exactly.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: While there are other people out there who by luck had higher paying jobs and end up getting a lot more retraining, including university potentially from the Workers' Compensation Board, just because of the nature of the work they were doing before.
MS. THOMPSON: Exactly. So it would make you feel so small, because you work to raise your kids. My only income was my own wages and trying to raise kids on it. Then they make you feel like a pile of you know what just because you didn't make big money.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Particularly when you look at that type of work, I mean when you look at work in that wage range, $7.00 an hour, most of it probably is going to be repetitive of some type, right?
MS. THOMPSON: Right.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: If we're going to be able to make you a productive member of society, which is what you want, then we probably are going to have to give you more training to enable you to move forward. It seems very disturbing to me that the Workers' Compensation Board really tried to prevent you, when you want to be productive, from becoming productive.
MS. THOMPSON: I think another gentleman said something about the age. I feel that they do discriminate against you because of your age. I am 55 years old and they don't think it is worth spending money on me to train me for something if I am going to be retired in 10 years. I feel this way from certain comments they have made. If I was a 30 year old woman, they would probably do a lot more for me. I don't think it is fair.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Yes. I think you're right.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Does anyone else have any questions for Ms. Thompson? Thank you very much for coming this evening. Our Chairman, Mr. Baker, has arrived. So I will turn the proceedings over to Mr. Baker.
[6:57 p.m. Mr. Michael Baker took the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter will be Roy W. LeBlanc. Is Mr. LeBlanc here?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Good evening. My name is Roy W. LeBlanc. My claim number is 1469209. I have had an ongoing dispute with the Workers' Compensation Board since 1991. I have a severe spinal injury. I was told by several doctors, and they know it, I would never return to work again. I could never be retrained or return to any type of occupation of work. I am a chronic pain sufferer. I take 40 milligrams of morphine daily.
They admitted everything that is wrong with me is wrong. They admitted that it happened on the job. They paid me for 13 months. They cut me off and their reason was that I had a degenerative spinal condition which I never knew I had until I lifted a piano at work. They told me I had a spinal disease before the accident and that this accident would have happened some other time, some other place, such as tying my shoe, or anything. Now, to
me, that's like telling somebody that gets run over in a crosswalk down on this street, we're not going to pay you because you might get run over next week up on the other street. So I am quite bitter. This has been going on for seven years.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc, I was just going to ask you, when was the date of your injury? Were you injured in 1991?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: The date of my injury was May 28, 1991.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I am not going to try to break your train of thought but the other question I had for you is, what kind of work were you doing at the time of your injury?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: A janitor in the school, a lot of lifting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Go ahead.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: In their letter of cut-off, the first letter that was sent to me said I had a simple soft tissue injury. Your spinal nerve is not a simple soft tissue injury. I beg to differ and my pain is as chronic as it gets. That's why I take morphine daily but I am in bed sometimes days at a time or I can't walk to the kitchen. I told them this on the telephone. I was laughed at. They said if I walked from my bedroom to the kitchen, they didn't call that being disabled.
I was treated like dirt under somebody's feet and I spent 38 years in the workforce. I drew unemployment insurance in my lifetime for about four weeks. I have gone up to six and seven years without losing a day's work. Even though I got paid, I had almost a year that I could have stayed home sick and been paid. I did not use any of my sick days. I still have them. The treatment that I received, I live with this every day, I cannot forget it. Even my doctor advised me not to get involved with this again because of what it has done to me.
I was told sometime last winter that eventually I would be paralysed and I am still fighting this. I do have a letter in my pocket - I might ask somebody to look at it - that looks maybe promising to me at last. I don't have a lawyer because our lawyers were taken away from us. I have an appointment with the lawyer in Halifax on October 6th, and I have to hire somebody to take me down. I don't have that much income, but I am better off than some people because I've seen a lot of horror stories. I have been in the rehab hospital on three different occasions for four to six weeks and people down there didn't have two cents in their pockets and some of them didn't have enough food to eat. So I am better off in some ways, but I have to pay to go to Halifax now and I am not even sure I have a lawyer when I get there or whether I am even going to get anything out of this.
I went through one period where I was suicidal, and I don't mind saying that because I know several people in the same condition I am that have been through the same thing. Through the help of stress pills, and I take any God's amount of pills. I don't know the names of them any more. I guess I have to live with it, but I spend 80 per cent to 90 per cent of my life in bed. My wife and I have not been out together since 1991. We used to attend hockey games. I used to be a musician and when I wasn't playing a dance, I was out dancing with my wife. It has been very hard on our marriage and it has been very stressful on my life. I guess I have to live with this.
I have to live with the pain, but I shouldn't have to struggle and not be able to pay my bills. I went to work for 38 years. I had to go to work as a child because our father left us when we were children, so I lost my childhood and now I find that - I wanted to work until I was 62 - I've lost my twilight years. I can't pay my bills. I can when I am 65, but I am 58 years old now and I guess I will keep it at that. I want to keep it short; there are other people here.
I would like to mention, once again, the horror stories I have seen in the hospitals around me. Decent, hard-working people down there trying to get better, and crying their heads off half the night not knowing whether their kids have anything to eat at home. That's pretty bad and these are hard-working, decent, honest people and I consider myself one of them. I had letters presented before the Workers' Compensation Board as to my work record and I think, in 18 and one-half years, they found seven lost days of work all due to high blood pressure, a condition I went through at that time, but never for a sore back. I never knew I had a degenerative back until that day.
I was told by a neurosurgeon in Halifax that many people have degenerative back diseases and walk the streets with it every day and go to the grave with it and never know, but I was one of the unfortunate ones. I did too much heavy work too early in the day and just the right time and the right moment. Sir and ladies, I guess that's all. If you have any questions . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc, I have a question. You said they paid you for a period of time and they cut you off?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Right, sir, 13 months.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And then after that you received no payment at all?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Nothing. I got accepted on the Canada Pension. They told me it was record time and the reason was my medical evidence was overwhelming and so well done. I was accepted in less than three months and received my first cheque and back pay on the fifth month. My doctors told me I have already been accepted for a group disability insurance plan. It didn't pay me very much money, but my doctors told me if you don't take
it you're going to be dead because I have a high blood pressure condition, terrible nerves, and they advised me, two doctors told me get away from the Workers' Compensation Board or you're going to be dead and I knew that myself.
So I had to take a big cut in wages after working 38 years. It is not the way I wanted to end up, especially after going to work as a young boy to help keep my younger brothers in school, but I guess that's a long answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, that is a fine answer, sir. You obviously went through the appeal process and . . .
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Yes, sir, and I have a letter here and if somebody would read it, it may be hopeful, I don't know, if somebody could tell me, I don't have a lawyer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will take a look at it.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: This is my last appeal but I have to get to see a lawyer first.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc, this is a notice that you have been granted leave to appeal to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal. I think it is pretty easy to say that what that means is that they have now thought of this with at least some merit. It is not an adjudication in your favour but that there is some merit in having your case heard at the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal. Obviously, you should take that to see your workers' adviser. I take it that is the gentleman in Halifax, or lady, that you've made an appointment with?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You should certainly take that with you when you . . .
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I just wanted to ask you, sir, is that letter promising?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It certainly is because the only other thing they could have done is you wouldn't have gotten leave to appeal, your appeal would have been dead.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: As you understand, sir, I do not have much money coming in a month although I appreciate what I do have. Some people don't have what I have but I have to pay my way down. I have to hire somebody to take me down. I am considered ambulatory but I can go in a car if it is laid down. I have to buy this person that takes me down a meal at least. All documents that they're asking for, that I am told that I have to pay for them, I don't mind paying any of that if there's - I know there are no guarantees in life but some sort of feeling that I am going to get something back for it. I cannot afford to take any money out of my meagre salary to hire people to take me to Halifax and pay all them tolls and then pay
doctors $30 and $40 for a letter for the Workers' Compensation Board who don't intend on giving me anything in the first place. I have been through this.
I have had my doctors write me letters when my doctor hadn't even been home and seen his family in three days because he has got so many patients. We're so short of doctors here. It is the worst thing in the world is to go in and ask your doctor, here, to fill out a paper because they are worked to the bone. I guess you know the doctor shortage situation here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I know Mr. [Kevin] Deveaux has a question for you.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a few questions for you. It is Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc, is it?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Yes, sir.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I want to get back to your original point which is that you had not had any prior back problems to the accident in May 1991?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I had an oral hearing which I wanted to get and they twisted and turned everything I said. Even my lawyer thought I conducted myself very well, even-tempered. They asked me, I never knew I had a back problem. They asked me have you ever come home at night with a sore back prior to this? I said, well, certainly I did, sir, many nights. I said I had a heavy job. I said I scrubbed and waxed floors. I moved furniture, bookcases, but I said I attributed it to a hard day's work and I said I was right back at it the next morning. I had a letter from my employer stating in 18 and a half years I had lost seven days for high blood pressure, never a complaint nor a lost day for a back ailment. Now, I am not denying that I had the degenerative back condition. I am not denying that but I am like a lot of people walking the streets, we have it and we don't know it.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I know where you're coming from. First of all, let me just say that you tell a very compelling story about someone, you're right, who has spent many years working so your case is very important to us. There are many others like you in Nova Scotia as well who have worked long years, have had no real back problems and then in one instant something happens and they end up hurting their back and the Workers' Compensation Board relies on the fact that there is a degenerative condition and therefore they won't pay the person.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I didn't, nor did my insurance company, ask for full pension. The doctors said they considered that my accident was 50 per cent job related and 50 per cent degenerative condition. I wasn't asking for 100 per cent pension. Like the gentleman, two people before, who said he had 30-some years in the workforce, myself, I had 38 years in the workplace and I had references and my lawyer said that my employers wrote so well of me,
he made a joke. He said, you could become Prime Minister of Canada with recommendations like this. Do you know what the compensation board said about them? Your character means nothing to us.
So a man who is drunk and misses every day after payday, constantly, throughout the year, he is treated no different than I am, a man that goes seven years without losing a day's work at a time. That is not fair. I think character should mean everything.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I just want to follow up a couple of points. I appreciate what you are saying. First of all, did anyone at the Workers' Advisers Program tell you that they could travel to Amherst and meet you?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: They said if it was absolutely impossible for me. I said, well I have a friend who has a mini van and the seat goes down into a bed and he has a cooler. I use ice packs and I have a back brace and I use crutches to get from one place to the other - tonight I have the cane - but I said I would like to try. I am in therapy three days a week now. I have been in therapy for seven years steady. I intend on having therapy the day before and that will be of great help to me the next morning.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Have they also said that you are going to have to pay for copies of documents?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I had to pay my expenses down. I called everybody and asked if I could pick up an expense cheque for my trip. They used to pay, I think. I have been down to the hospital on their say-so, and I used to pick up, I don't know whether it is $108 or $112. They said I had to - I asked everybody - pay my way down. I am ambulatory. It could have been worse, but I don't want to go down in an ambulance. I don't like ambulances. Also, that every document, it is my responsibility, any fees, or whatever, for me to collect them and pay the fees.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: But with regard to travelling to see the workers' adviser, then you have to pay your own way, is that your understanding?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Let me just say, for the record I guess, as someone who used to work in the Workers' Advisers Program, I used to travel around the province and meet with people in their own towns whenever I could, or as close as possible. So if anyone at the Workers' Advisers Program is telling you that they cannot make it to Amherst, then . . .
MR. ROY LEBLANC: No, sir, nobody has ever told me that. I never asked and I assumed that it was my responsibility to get there. I told them that was my only fear that there are some days I can't walk.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Well, that is a real problem with the Workers' Advisers Program. If they are not willing to even offer to meet you in your town, given the condition that you are in, then it is a problem.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I believe I was told that if anything seriously happened that I couldn't make it, they would try somehow to get to me. I believe that was said, sir.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Well, given your financial condition, I would hope that the Workers' Advisers Program would make every effort to try and prevent you from having to spend money to travel to Halifax, and try and make every effort to come to Amherst and meet you here.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Well, I hope so because when I take $150 for documents and transportation out of my money at the end of the month, $150 is like $1,000 used to be when I was working, sir. So I guess that is all for me; there are other people here.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I wonder if I might say something to you, sir? You had asked somebody if they had anything to say of any changes to the compensation board, what they would do. I would hire some people, such as you see here, who have been through the mill and know what it feels like and they know what it is like not to be treated like a human being after working their guts out all their life and to be treated like a piece of shit - I don't mean to be disrespectful - I have been treated so ignorantly by some of those people down there. When I was polite on the telephone, I was laughed at, hung up on, and I think it is nice for somebody to walk in your shoes and then maybe, I guess you understand. I didn't mean to be disrespectful.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc, Mr. Fage has a question for you.
MR. FAGE: Hi, Roy.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Hi.
MR. FAGE: Roy, listening to your concerns, there, you have obviously worked very hard to get out here tonight.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I stayed in bed all day, sir, so I could get here tonight.
MR. FAGE: Your recommendations are extremely important to us and we have heard concerns about workers' advisers travelling around Nova Scotia. Roy, many people have expressed that advisers, lawyers, regardless if they are professionals who are going to advise injured workers, should be from the communities that they live in so they know those people, so they have concerns for the condition of those communities. Would you prefer to have somebody from your own community rather than the hassle of trying to force somebody out of metro to come here and visit you?
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I agree with that totally. I hadn't heard from the compensation board in close to two years and then all of a sudden I hear from them and they want all this documentation within 20 days and I can't get around half the time and I couldn't interpret my letters. I went to my former lawyer and we got talking. He told me that dealing with the compensation board was 1,000 times harder than doing criminal law. I think he was glad to be free of it. He said, I couldn't help anybody anymore. I can't keep up with the rules, they change day by day. Unless we had somebody that specialized in that only, and had the expertise but I don't know whether there would be enough of that for one lawyer in each town but other than that, if they don't have the expertise, they are not going to help anybody. He could not keep up with the rules and regulations. He said criminal law, he thought was tough.
MR. FAGE: I think that shows some of the problems that we have been hearing across the province, that there is a different rule it appears, almost, for each different case, which makes it very difficult, Roy, for anybody to advise on and secondly, maybe some streamlining of those regulations so that you get closure, so that you get answers, is what is needed and then somebody in your community can help you because I really think the same frustration is regardless of where you are based at as an adviser.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: Yes, I agree with you totally.
MR. FAGE: Thanks, Roy. I appreciate you coming out.
MR. ROY LEBLANC: I would also like to thank yourself, Mr. Fage, and Terry Rhindress for everything they done to get these people here. I think this is a great thing. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. [Roy] LeBlanc. Our next presenter is Mr. Wayne Isaacs.
MR. WAYNE ISAACS: You'll have to excuse me, I am not used to this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is all right. Just take your time.
MR. ISAACS: Good evening. My name is Wayne Isaacs. My workers' compensation number is 1617784. In April 1996, I sustained a back injury while employed with SCL Technologies of Amherst. Since then, I have seen numerous doctors and specialists, had various tests, X-rays and a ton of physical therapy. My condition, however, has not improved. X-rays show lower disc damage with bone fragments floating in my spinal column. This is extremely painful. Repeated flare-ups cause me to be completely bedridden from time to time. In addition, the bone fragments cause increasing paralysis in my legs. Surgery is now being considered to remove these bone fragments which should help to slow the loss of use of my legs at least until more bone fragments break loose. It will, however, do nothing for other symptoms.
This diagnosis is agreed upon by all doctors, specialists and therapists with the exception, of course, of medical advisers employed by the Workers' Compensation Board. It seems funny that these medical advisers are qualified to overrule all other doctors and specialists. You would think that these supremely qualified individuals would be in demand by medical associations the world over. (Laughter)
I am 42 years old, have always been employed until this accident. I cannot sit, stand or walk for any period of time and I am in pain at all times. Lifting is out of the question and bending is limited. With these restrictions, I have been unable to work since the accident. No company is willing to take on such an insurance risk. I have received workers' compensation payments up until approximately September 1996. I have lost an appeal since then. Over the past two years, my family has suffered many hardships, and my nerves, too, as you can see.
I am married with two young children. My wife works, but does not have sufficient income to even cover monthly bills. We have exhausted all of our savings. We have been forced into the Orderly Payment of Debts Program to reduce monthly expenditures. We still, however, fall further behind each month. With winter coming, it is impossible to conceive how we will be able to afford to feed our family. My children have suffered through two years of poverty. This means second-hand clothing, no summer vacations, very little to look forward to from Santa Claus. They have just returned to school with no new clothes and last year's bookbags. The stress of living like this has taken its toll on my entire family and my patience has run out.
My lawyer, who is being paid for by the Workers' Advisers Program, tells me that settlement of this claim could easily take another year or so; I simply cannot tolerate this any longer. There is, in my opinion, no need to waste money on any more of these. I can see the benefit of having this hearing, but the workers' compensation already have the claims. The people just want them settled to know what is going on. I have followed the proper procedure so far and have gotten nowhere, so I am here tonight to serve notice that I now intend alternative routes. I am convinced that the only way to get this problem solved is to make it a problem of those in power. This means public demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, and civil disobedience.
The Liberals, who have been in power for some time now, have done nothing to solve this dilemma. Maybe they need some reminders on a daily basis. Maybe the people have to get together here and see what is going on. The people are suffering while their buddies are feeding from the workers' compensation trough. I don't know the figure, but it has been thrown around to me that, for every dollar that goes into the workers' compensation, 40 cents is used in administrative costs. I don't know if this is a fact. I would be interested to know this. There is an audit going down on their budget. That is too much. Anything over 8 per cent to 10 per cent, that is a trough to me.
Perhaps having some people disrupt the Legislature would help remind them, or maybe pickets outside their homes and their offices would help. Television coverage, that is always helpful, especially before elections and by-elections. Whatever is needed, I am willing to do. Legislation to help correct these problems in the system is going to take a lot more time than I am prepared to wait. I am not going to make my children suffer through poverty any longer. Maybe it is time that we make the politicians suffer instead. Thank you. You will hear from me in future.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We may have some questions for you, sir. I have one question. You indicate that you have an appeal that you have waited for, or you may be waiting for as much as a year, according to your lawyer. What reason did the Workers' Compensation Board give for turning down your claim in the past?
MR. ISAACS: Basically, I am much the same as the previous gentleman and I've been called a liar. I am doing this because I have worked all my life just to line up for workers' compensation benefits and get stuck into an income that is going to be much lower than I would have working. It has just been, I guess, the way it has gone - it took me eight months to get a ruling on a leave to appeal.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So you have your leave to appeal, have you?
MR. ISAACS: I just got a leave to appeal. My lawyer has just put it in there about a week or so ago now. Why would it take that long to get a leave to appeal, not an appeal? You should just go in, and oh, yeah, we will get it. Unless it is terribly wrong, it should be automatically granted. So you are tied up for six or eight months there just waiting. Then you have to get all your stuff together and appeal and wait another year or so for that. I have been tied up here for over two years with nothing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And you can't even get a hearing.
MR. ISAACS: No, that is right. When it goes in, how long does it take to read and digest information? Do you take one case, read that and now we will sit back until that one is settled and we will go on to the next one? It shouldn't be any more than 30 days. I think it is unreasonable.
MR. CHAIRMAN: A very good point, sir. So obviously from your point of view, one of your suggestions, if you had suggestions to improve the system, is to speed up the appeal process.
MR. ISAACS: Most definitely. Let people know where they stand and once you get through this, if they reject it or whatever, then you have to pursue it through the courts. I had a copy of the Workers' Compensation Act downloaded from the Net and I looked through it and it is a very biased Act. To me, if you want to read between the lines, it is good as long as it works for workers' compensation; if not, we will change it to our benefit. All in all, when you get down to the end, it will come to the rights of the tribunal. Well, as long as we have done all this in good faith, you have no recourse. You cannot sue, you cannot do this, whatever. So it is a very one-sided Act. I don't know what in there is there to benefit the person who has been injured.
You know, companies are paying unreal amounts of money to get this and I look at it as an insurance against someone, you know, you could work all your life and get along well but if you don't, you got to rely on this as an insurance to feed your family. It is a social stopgap to protect you. It is protection, it is supposed to be, I should say, but it doesn't seem that way to me. I am just a layman. I am not a politician, I am not a lawyer. That is just the way it looks to me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Obviously, another one of the problems you see with the compensation system is the fact that your family doctor, your specialists get overruled by the board doctors who have never seen you, I suspect.
MR. ISAACS: Well, I saw a Dr. Yabsley one day. Now, I mean - I see somebody else has seen him also - the man to just look at me, he insulted me before he even opened his mouth. He came in and he just, hm. He had his mind made up before he even saw me. He came in, he hemmed and he hawed, he tried to bend my leg. It wouldn't bend enough so he pushed it harder. There, that will go up. At the end of about a 5 or 10 minute examination, there is nothing wrong with you and off we went. So he is one doctor.
Then there was the work hardening centre in Halifax. I was sent there, against my doctor's advice I went, I shouldn't have gone. Tried to put me through the pace, shall we say and threatening you the whole time that if you do not do this, I guarantee you will be cut off. In the meantime, I've got kids that I've got to feed, you know, I am looking for some income. They used to hold this over your head. So I was there for two weeks. They darn near killed me. When I left there, I probably reverted at six months on my injury, back worse than I was when I originally started. I had to get on the bus, when on the way back for the last trip, I was on the bus and the bus pulled in up at the mall. I couldn't get off the bus. I had to get somebody to help me get off the bus and call my wife to come and get me. I couldn't drive because I couldn't sit long enough. I had to take enough painkillers, I got codeine in me here,
now, just so I can sit here and talk to you with a semi-straight face. I know I will pay for it tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I don't know if any of the other members of the committee have any questions for you, sir. I appreciate you taking the time and I might add that in the time that we have been across Nova Scotia, unfortunately the comments you made are not new. We have heard those comments from a large number of other people. Thank you very much for taking the time to come in this evening and I hope you can sit through the rest of the presentations.
MR. ISAACS: I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
MR. CHAIRMAN: At this time I would like to take an opportunity to introduce Murray Scott, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cumberland South who has joined us here as an observer tonight. Nice to see you, Murray.
Our next presenter is Mr. Carl Gouchie. I don't know if I pronounced that right. Is it Gouchie? Sorry.
MR. CARL GOUCHIE: I am new at this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is fine. You just take your time, sir.
MR. GOUCHIE: I stutter, I am under stress. If I break down and start to cry, it is because of my stress. I am going to read now something just briefly what I wrote down. First, denial. I injured myself at work. I was denied first, the compensation board denied my claim saying that I did not suffer personal injury during the course of my employment. I had my co-worker prove the compensation wrong by stating I injured my shoulder on the virgin press which I was working on at the time. So that solved that problem.
Then they came up with another excuse. Now my employer stated that I had worked as a deburrer since 1985 to 1998, which was a false statement. I had a shop steward - I won't mention his name unless it is necessary - proved that I was in hand forming and the virgin press rather than a deburrer, but the employer said I worked as deburrer for 15 years, all my life, which was wrong. Okay, when I was hand forming in November 1997, my foreman approached me and asked me if I would go to work with my co-worker on the virgin press. This was in December 1997. I was asked by the union to take a grandfather job deburring in January. Now a grandfather job means that you can go from one job into a deburring department and you don't lose any wages. That is what grandfather means.
Now in January, I told my foreman that my shoulder was bothering me too much because of the heavy lifting, the pushing and the pulling on rubber mats, pads on the press. He told me that he didn't want me to leave, my co-worker and I were doing such a good job. I told him I had no choice because the pain in my shoulder was getting worse. Because I took the grandfather job, I had no choice. I did approach the shop steward - it was the same shop steward - to come with me to see and speak with a Mr. Fred Sinclair in the Human Resources Department, to ask of him if I could use a charge hand number, not to get paid charge hand wages, but just to use the number so I could slack off my work to try to heal my shoulder. He denied me.
Mr. Sinclair denied my request because he said I had to be active on the job. I would be active on the job, but would not put out as much work as I had before. He still denied me the request, so I went back to my doctor and I told him that I was denied my request and he asked me if I would take a light duty job. Against my better judgement, I said yes. My doctor called Perry Robinson, who is no longer at the plant, to put me in a light duty job that would not require any pressure on my shoulder over four pounds. The second day on the job, they had me doing orders to be shipped out that required holding orders with my right arm like so, and with a tape dispenser in this hand to put tape on it and pull for three hours.
That shoulder pained me so bad that I had to leave the plant, go to therapy and have them try to stop the pain. They worked on my shoulder for three days and the pain eased up, but it never went away. I went back to work three more days in the plant on a different part doing inventory, which is holding a slate in your hand, writing on a piece of paper. I couldn't even hold that very long. So I went back to my doctor again, and that is when he put me off work.
Actually my shoulder, it caused more damage when I was trying to do up these orders to be shipped out because, believe me, the pain was so bad, I darn near cried. That is when I had to leave and went to therapy. They are writing something down, verifying I was there, what they did to my shoulder, the treatment and what they did afterwards to try to ease the pain.
After the three days I told you when I went on the other job, I had to go back to my doctor and then he had to put me off work. He sent me to a specialist in Moncton. In fact, my doctor gave me a Thorazine shot first which did no good. The specialist in Moncton, gave me a dye needle in my shoulder here to find out what the problem was. My doctor couldn't understand why it wasn't healing. He said the damage in my shoulder, in the muscles, the way it was knotted up and twisted, would never heal. He said the only way the pain can be stopped, I have to go through an operation, the muscles are going to have to be cut, pulled and stitched together and I would never be able to return back to work because I will have no more than 40 pounds of strength left in my shoulder or less. So right now, I am waiting for the operation to get rid of the pain.
Now every time the compensation board, they come up with one excuse right after another. I have been through this before over hearings and they twist things around to their own liking. They say what they want to say to make themselves look good. What I got to say don't make no difference or anybody else, anyone in this room. I don't care who they are. I have never lied to the compensation board and this situation, I tried to heal my shoulder by doing therapy because I injured my shoulder before. Two and a half months after I was put off work, my shoulder did heal. I had no problem with my shoulder until I went on that press, which I didn't know it was going to cause me any damage but the weight and the height and the bending over and the stretching and the pulling did start my shoulder paining, it got worse and worse and worse and worse. That is why I said I took the grandfather job, hoping that I could ease off and my shoulder would heal through therapy that I was doing at the hospital would help, which it didn't. The doctor couldn't figure it out. I said that is why he sent me to a specialist and that is why he told me what damage was done to my shoulder but it never healed and now I will never be able to go back to work again because I don't have enough strength left in my shoulder to do anything.
Now the compensation board has denied everything I have said. I have proved everything they said wrong but now they are saying I waited too long to see a specialist.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You said that they were saying something different now. Can you repeat that?
MR. GOUCHIE: They are saying now that I waited too long to see a specialist for help. Now the therapy, what I was doing home, the same therapy when the doctor sent me doing, and I kept on working through the therapy, that is why I went to Mr. Sinclair to try to slack off my job to give my shoulder a chance to heal for doing less work. So I am in a situation now - I am going by what my specialist told me, about my damage, why I would never heal. Only an operation will ease the pain and the strength in my shoulder is going to be about 40 per cent or less.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Have you an appeal of your denial in the system somewhere?
MR. GOUCHIE: Yes, I have a hearing coming next month at the Wandlyn.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have a lawyer from the Workers' Advisers Program in Halifax?
MR. GOUCHIE: Linda Zambolin, something like that. But everything they have said, I have witnesses, I have it all wrote down. I have never lied to the compensation board. In this case, I tried everything in my power to keep on working because I hate being on compensation, I hate being off work. That job they put me on in the plant, put the finishing touch to my shoulder, as far as I am concerned. A lot of people goes in the compensation
board, they lie, they cheat, they sneak, they tell lies, they get compensation, no problem whatsoever. You send somebody up who is honest, you are wasting your time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps some other members of the committee have some questions for you. Do any of the other members have any questions? Do any of the consultants have a question? Well, thank you very much for taking . . .
MR. GOUCHIE: There is another thing too. When I go to bed at nights, I cannot sleep on that shoulder. It pains so damn bad. I got to sleep on this shoulder and I got to find a certain position to lay this shoulder just to sleep and I don't sleep very good at nights. Even to hold a cup of coffee in my hand, it bothers my shoulder. I did apply for Canada Pension, disabled pension. The doctor hasn't filled it out yet. I am waiting for that, hoping that they will not deny me. My point is, why the compensation board that we pay into, if you are injured at work, why do they come up with all these different excuses that they want to twist the things around to their own liking so they don't have to pay a worker that actually did get injured at work?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is an excellent question, sir.
MR. GOUCHIE: To me, I would like to see some of them get off their butt and go out and get a job and get injured and try to get compensation and go through the same thing. Then they might get a taste of what they are doing for other people. I don't like being nasty or nothing like that but that stops my case in this case. My hearing case, I lost hearing in both ears. You wouldn't believe the sneaky things they done about that. I could be here all night telling you about that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you very much, though, for taking the time to share with us your difficulties with the Workers' Compensation Board and certainly we wish you the best of success on your hearing.
MR. GOUCHIE: Okay, I want to ask one more question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure, go ahead.
MR. GOUCHIE: Why do they have the right to deny somebody who is injured at work? That is what we paid into, right? If we aren't going to be protected when we get injured at work, why do they go out every way to deny that we don't get injured at work, that we get injured someplace else and try to blame the work?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is a very good question, sir. I wish I had the answer.
MR. GOUCHIE: I wish I did, too. Nobody has. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Our next presenter is Mr. Thomas Fisher.
MR. THOMAS FISHER: My name is Thomas Fisher. My claim number is 148662. For 28 years of my life I spent working at Robb Engineering. On November 27, 1991, I received a back injury at work and since that time I have not been back to Robb's to work again. Because of the accident, I have seen three specialists: Dr. Andrew Clark and Dr. Bill Rice, both of Moncton, New Brunswick; and Dr. Reg Yabsley of Halifax. That is why I laughed earlier, guys. I have been there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we guess who referred you to Dr. Yabsley? (Laughter)
MR. FISHER: I have been to Dr. Mary Parker, a chiropractor in Amherst, and to the physiotherapy department of our local hospital, as well as being treated by Karen Read of Amherst Physiotherapy Clinic. I have had and been treated by two family physicians, Dr. Joseph Morris and Dr. Terry Mullan, both of Amherst. I also saw Dr. J.J.P. Patil at the Rehabilitation Clinic in Truro at my doctor's advice. I have taken medicine, I have used ice packs, electricity, and needles in my back for the problem in my back to get some relief, relief that does not last and sometimes wakes you up in the night and keeps you up.
I have gone through three appeals for Canada Pension disability. The last appeal was successful. I have been on workers' compensation payments, bridging payments from my company, Amherst Town welfare and now I am receiving Canada Pension disability payments.
What do I see wrong with the WCB? How can a doctor who does not know you and only looks at paper, begin to understand your problems and diagnose for you. If a doctor you did not know spoke to you on the phone and gave you a prescription for pills without seeing you first, you would be upset. The WCB does this and no one can do anything about it. When a person has been told by his doctor he is to be out of work for an extended period of time, it is necessary that the patient make monthly trips to his doctor to fill out monthly reports for the WCB. Unless you have a sympathetic doctor, this can be expensive for the patient and sometimes painful in travelling. If we do not make out these reports, we are penalized for it, perhaps it could be three or six month reports.
We are told that there are three appeals. This is a lie; there are four. Between the second and third, there is one called an Application for Third Appeal. If you are turned down, then the appeal system is over for the patient; if approved, then you must apply for the third appeal. This all takes time and is frustrating for the patient. I would suggest that if you must have more than one, then just let it be two. What is the patient to live on while all this is going on? Does anyone really care? I know that many people tell you what they think you want to hear, but my own opinion is that they do not give a damn.
Appeal system. Have someone closely related to the type of work that you were involved in try your case. In my second appeal, I had a woman lawyer who had no idea what I was talking about most of the time. The one that makes me the maddest is that you have someone who has no medical training whatsoever, except watching ER or Marcus Welby repeats, tell a specialist or a doctor they don't know what they are talking about and cut you off from your payments. Why do we get reports filled out if these people have the gall to not listen to what the doctors are saying. I can understand the need for a second opinion on a serious case, but I cannot understand where these people are coming from when they ignore what is told them. They get away with this and no one seems to be able to do anything about it.
The federal government said in my case that I would be unable to work for 40 hours a week and be able to earn a living to support myself, and yet this organization we have in Halifax laughs at this. Are they not answerable to anyone? Are they a law unto themselves? In the paper, I read that there is a new Workers' Compensation Act. I realize that you have heard many people speak to you, and I am sure you have had as many letters and faxes as well. I hope you will understand what I am about to say. Although I wish each and every one of these people well, we are all self-interested first, so I ask you, what will this Act do for me?
In closing, I would like to thank you all for hearing me out on this subject. Please do not be offended when I say that I honestly expect nothing to come out of these hearings concerning the WCB. This is one time I hope you prove me wrong. Go for it. I didn't realize, from reading the paper I thought that we just bring in suggestions to workers' compensation, so I will summarize quickly and, then, if anybody wishes to ask any questions, I will be more than pleased to answer to the best of ability, even though you must realize I don't have my files with me.
On November 27, 1991, I was hurt at Robb Engineering, lifting a box of bolts and turning to the right and setting it down. From sitting here tonight, there is no way in hell I can show you how I did it; I am hurting too much right now. In fact, I know Karen is here and I wish she had a couple of needles. Anyway, I am going to have a drink, I hope you don't mind.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No. Take your time, sir.
MR. FISHER: This is just water, Ernie.
MR. FAGE: There are other establishments where it becomes stronger. (Laughter)
MR. FISHER: This should have been held at the Lion's Club. Anyway, when I got hurt, I went to see Dr. Joe Morris, who was my family doctor at that time. I couldn't bear full weight on my left leg. I was walking, basically, on the toes of my left foot, and my right leg.
He gave me Tylenol, told me to go home and see what would happen for the weekend. We tried that. Nothing happened; if anything, it was getting worse. I couldn't sleep.
I continued to see him, we filled out the proper forms for workers' compensation. I applied for workers' compensation and I started to receive it. After a short period of time, he said that he felt there was nothing that he could do as a family physician to help my problem. One thing in favour of Joe Morris, I found him honest that way, in my case. Joe then asked to me, do you want to go to Halifax or Moncton? I said, Moncton is closer.
He made an appointment. He said, I will see who I can get. The first person he had tried for was Dr. Bill Rice in Moncton, who would come down to the Sackville, New Brunswick, hospital and see patients there. The only problem was, it was going to take six months to get in to to see him, so I asked him to see if he could get me another specialist in Moncton. He then got Dr. Andrew Clark, who I saw in less than half the time. I saw Dr. Clark for a period of roughly a year. During that period, he referred me to Dr. Bill Rice for a second opinion, and I saw him, I think, four times that year. In the interim, I had been to Dr. Mary Parker, a chiropractor. I had been to the Amherst Physiotherapy Clinic, if I remember correctly, no I am sorry, not the Amherst physio, the local hospital, Highland View Hospital; they are two separate clinics, okay? So that you don't make any mistake.
I had gone there and, basically, what Dr. Clark did was put me on a waiting list, waiting to see how my back was getting. One day I walked down the hospital aisle, and he came up - I didn't know he was walking along behind me - and asked, Tom, what did you do? I said, nothing, just drove over here. I was walking bent over like that.
In the course of the year, there was talk of surgery. I went to see him - I am not sure of the date; as I said, I don't have my files here, but Ernie has seen most of my files though - and he said, Tommy, go home, live with it, I am not going to cut you, it is as simple as that. I said that I wanted a second opinion. He said, will you talk to Bill Rice before you leave? I waited another two hours, talked to Bill Rice, told him what was going on. Bill said, I can give you one chance in a 100 that possibly I can alleviate the pain. I said, I will take it. He said, no you won't, go home. He said, you are in better shape now than you would be if you had surgery. It kind of browned me off, so I never really thought to question him. When I came home, my wife's family doctor was Dr. Mark Bennett, who I was talking to at the hospital. I asked him, Mark, what would they mean by that? He said, you are walking aren't you, do you want to try a wheelchair?
Anyway, I saw them for a year. During that time, the WCB referred me to the wonderful Dr. Yabsley, and like the previous person who spoke of Dr. Yabsley, same thing. I received word from workers' compensation after a year and a half that I was going to be cut off. I questioned why - you will love this one - I was too fat, that is why I got hurt. I worked. I was born fat. Robb Engineering, guess what? They hired me when I was fat. I worked 28 years at Robb's, I was fat. The last year I worked at Robb's, two of us would go in at 8:00
o'clock in the morning and instead of getting off at 4:30, I was working to 8:00, 8:30, some nights 11:30, and I was still fat.
I got hurt. I went to my family doctor. I went to see Andrew Clark, I went to see Bill Rice, and I went to Reg Yabsley, who found out I was fat. Then they decided that because you are fat you got hurt. My work record, I think the funniest thing that I heard, we had a case and my manager at the plant went and spoke at a hearing that I was at, and he was asked what was my work record like, and I was told by him that I was too conscientious. Wonderful. Lost that case.
Anyway, I got cut off. Then the appeal system began. I went through one, got turned down. I went through the second one, got turned down. Then we applied for a third appeal. That took about a year, got permission to go for the next one. So then we applied for number four. I asked my lawyer how we were going to go, his name was Terry Farrell. He said, he was going to basically apply that the lawyer was wrong in judging me in the way she did.
During this time, when I was off, we had applied for the retraining program under workers' compensation. I wondered about it, because when the two specialists from Moncton sent my report back to Joe Morris, he said, Tommy, I could read it medically, you wouldn't understand what I am talking about, how about plain and simple English. I said, okay, go for it. He said, you can go back to work Monday - I think I have told Ernie this story, Ernie has never given me a job either - if I can get a job where I can sit down, but be able to stand up. Get a job where I can stand still but be able to move around. The next two are two opinions, get a job where I can lift 10 pounds, one opinion. Get a job where I can lift nothing. And I love this one - this is why I don't think I have gotten a job from Ernie - get a job where 20 to 25 minutes every hour, I can go lay down. (Laughter) Wonderful. Anybody hiring?
That is the kind of song and dance I have gone through. A couple of things have happened to me over the years. I talked with the secretary when I called about this, and we got laughing, and she said, one of the things I have found about people in workers' compensation, in cases like mine, you laugh a lot. Listen, you have to laugh, you go stark raving crazy if you don't. I think back on one conversation I had with workers' compensation, I don't know how many people here remember the gentleman that paid them a visit with a machete, like I told him, I said, the girls at the switchboard have always been nice to me, so I felt sorry for those girls. Even though I didn't approve of what this gentleman did, I could damn well understand why he did it.
Anyway, Terry applied for a third appeal. Everything, as you have all learned, is a waiting game. I think they are waiting for us to die. Knowing I can go back to work under those conditions, I received this letter dated August 28th. It is too long to read, and I have no intention of it. They overturned the lady lawyer's appeal. Now they say I am eligible for retraining, so this should be fun. I asked my lawyer, who is Alden Blaikie now because Terry had left the firm, I said, I need your advice. He said, my advice to you is to accept it. I said,
you have 30 days. He said, right. I said, okay, if I don't accept it? He said, well, we can try an appeal. Did you not know he was going for retraining? I said, no I didn't. I said, we had been turned down once before, that I didn't qualify for it.
Long story, short, I was amazed when it came in. Fairly ugly. I asked him again, I said, you are telling me to accept this? He said, yes, I would tell you to accept it. I said, what happens if it doesn't work out? He said, you can appeal again. I said, wonderful, do I go see you? Oh no, you and I are all done. Now you go see somebody in Halifax. Wonderful. I look forward to going to Halifax, I hate the place.
Anyway, that is where I am to right now. Pain every day. I washed a bathroom floor at Little League one day. I came home, and this isn't the first time I have done it, put my hands on the stairs, put my feet on the stairs and crawled upstairs like a crab. My wife has come in and helped me get dressed. My wife has come in and helped me get dressed, my wife has come in and helped me get washed. I have gone to bed, gotten up and walked through the house in the dark late at night because you cannot sleep.
My doctor, Joe Morris, gave me pills for pain and to help me sleep. He said, take them as you need them. I went in to see him about three months later and he looked at me and said, you're not sleeping. He looked at this chart and he said, you must be out of pills. I said, well, they lasted the month and a half. I said, could I have another prescription? So he tells me, he said, I will give you a prescription but I'm scared. I said, why are we scared? What's wrong? He said, they're full of morphine. I said, you ain't making no prescription. He said, the prescription will last about a year. The drugstore - I will make one out, you take it out, if you need it, go get it. I said, no, I'm not taking it, I've got enough problems now, I don't want to become a junkie.
I don't take pills but I did congratulate my now family doctor, Terry Mullan, that I am now up to Tylenol. I am still scared of pills and at this point in time, I don't know what is going to take place tomorrow.
The gentleman that spoke earlier and got his leave to his third appeal, good luck to him. Anybody here, good luck to you.
I honestly don't think there is going to be much come of these hearings. I think workers' compensation is too strong. Everybody has told me over the years, if you have a problem with these people or people like these, go see your politician. I was never one to run to my politician.
Anyway, I received a phone call from my politician. His secretary said that people had spoken to Mr. Fage on my behalf and would I be willing to come out and talk to him, and present my case.
I went out. We spent 75 minutes of his time sitting in a room, looking at papers and talking, generally getting the gist of it. He said he would look into it. I was in my third appeal. He checked into it. Their answer to him, oh, it's easy to find out. Tell him to get a hold of his lawyer and call. Ain't nobody in God's green earth going to get through third appeal from there, ain't nobody. It was a joke. They lied to Ernie. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time. They probably lied to some of you people too. If they haven't, they will, I can promise you.
I'm left with two thoughts concerning workers' compensation. A friend of mine said to me one time before, I wonder how many people in Nova Scotia have committed suicide because of workers' compensation. Hell will freeze over. If they were to bring me a million dollars tomorrow I'd hate them people for what they have done to me and my family. This is personal.
I thoroughly despise them and anybody working for them. I don't even know most of them and I don't want to know most of them. They are probably the only people in this world that I hate but I hate them with a passion like you wouldn't believe.
I have often made a joke - and I might have even told Ernie - that if you ever hear of that place catching on fire, and there is a little, short, fat guy in a brush cut throwing rocks at the firemen, send me a card in jail, it will be me. (Laughter) That is what I think of them. I will answer any of your questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you very much. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to tell your side of the story and give us your recommendations. Do any members of the committee have a question? Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: Thank you very much, Tom, for coming in.
MR. FISHER: You're welcome, sir.
MR. FAGE: Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, Tom's experience, I think, typifies the frustration of any Nova Scotian who has dealt with workers' compensation over a long period of time and tried to get a resolution to a situation that concerns their health, their livelihood and their family.
It is very difficult to work on situations like that and it is frustrating to see the situation come to no resolution on a citizen like Tom's behalf. We really appreciate you coming here, Tom, and sharing it with us.
MR. FISHER: Thank you Ernie for all your help to me too.
MR. FAGE: Well, it is a frustrating situation.
MR. FISHER: I appreciate you trying, if nothing else.
MR. FAGE: Yes, thank you.
MR. FISHER: May I say one thing?
MR. FAGE: Sure, go ahead, sir.
MR. FISHER: In going to see Dr. Yabsley, I went to see this wonderful gentleman at the workers' compensation behalf because Dr. Andrew Clark hadn't cut me. The amazing thing is that in his report to my doctor, Dr. Andrew Clark, and the Workers' Compensation Board, he agreed with the same problem that Dr. Andrew Clark found with me; L4 and L5 is the area. I'm a chronic pain sufferer. I am in pain every day; some days, more so than others. Right now I am in so much pain I could take that chair and drive it through the curtain and it wouldn't bother me a bit.They said to learn to live with it. You learn to live with it.
Guess what? They still cut me off because he said I was fat. Kim is getting this if you wish to see it. My name is at the end of it. My address is there and my phone number is there. If any of you ever wish to question me on anything, call me; copies of my file, just ask me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Godin has a question for you, sir.
MS. ROSEMARY GODIN: Thank you, Mr. Fisher. I will try not to keep you because I know it is hard for you to sit in these chairs. Out of all the specialists, doctors and therapists that you have gone to see, is there just the one that the WCB suggested or told you that you had to see?
MR. FISHER: Dr. Reg Yabsley, yes.
MS. GODIN: Okay. The rest you have seen on your own?
MR. FISHER: No, the rest I have seen at my family doctor, Dr. Joseph Morris, at that time.
MS. GODIN: Yes, that's what I mean, okay. Was it suggested to you that you had better see the WCB doctor, Dr. Reg Yadsley . . .
MR. FISHER: No, ma'am, the WCB made the appointment and told me I was going to see Dr. Yabsley.
MS. GODIN: Okay, that is what I was getting at. It was strongly suggested to you?
MR. FISHER: Oh, yes.
MS. GODIN: You didn't have a choice, really, they said you had to see him.
MR. FISHER: Yes.
MS. GODIN: Okay, thank you, Mr. Fisher.
MR. FISHER: Oh, no problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
Mr. [Kevin] Deveaux.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I just have a couple of questions for you, Mr. Fisher. I appreciate your coming this evening. I know it is not usually easy to come in front of other people and tell your story but you have done a very good job of articulating, I think, for what is for a lot of people in Nova Scotia an ongoing problem.
I just want to comment on a couple of recommendations that you have made and I happen to agree with. One is, the leave to appeal process which I think you mentioned, the stage between the stages that is there. It really is a redundant process and I think others have noted that tonight, a fairly long process that shouldn't have to be that long.
One of the other things, I think, that is noted is the first level of appeal. I have heard others mention that the reconsideration is also a fairly redundant appeal because, basically, it is to the same person who made the original decision. If we could eliminate some of those levels of appeal, it may make the process at least more streamlined.
I wanted to also note that you mentioned the life experience of the decision makers which I think is very important. All too often with workers' compensation, they are people who are sitting in Halifax making decisions, or Sydney, but they don't really have a lot of experience with what type of work you did or what type of work other people do.
MR. FISHER: Exactly.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: In many cases, they don't take the time or have the experience to be able to come out and even look at what type of work you have done. If only we had people at workers' compensation who had that kind of experience, various forms of experience, I think we would have a much more fair system.
The last question I have for you is, you said Mr. Farrell had appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal with regard to retraining. I wasn't clear . . .
MR. FISHER: I didn't understand at the time he was applying for retraining. I understood that he was appealing this lady lawyer's decision. Like I said, I received this and it is . . .
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: That was my question. So, basically, Mr. Farrell - who I believe lives here in Amherst - he's a lawyer here in Amherst, sir?
MR. FISHER: Yes, sir, he did.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: He appealed on your behalf but there was some confusion as to what the appeal was about?
MR. FISHER: Right. I thought it was just a third appeal on her decision, because we had been through the retraining process and they had turned me down as unacceptable and not necessary.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: And you didn't find this out until after you got your decision?
MR. FISHER: Until I got that there.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay. Are you able now to go back and deal with the original decision that you wanted dealt with or is it too late?
MR. FISHER: I think, really, it is too late.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Right.
MR. FISHER: The way my lawyer spoke, the best thing to do is accept this one. Mr. Alden Blakie - Terry Farrell worked for - was a third partner in that firm. It is now Beaton and Blakie.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay.
MR. FISHER: I must tell you a funny one and then I will leave you.
I realize what specialists cost. You know, you don't get them for a nickel. I also realize that workers' compensation is often saying, they are having money problems and I'm sure they are. We all are today.
When they cut me off, one of the reasons they cut me off was, yes, I was fat. The other thing was, the guy I was talking to at the time, he said, we had a meeting and we decided that the reason we cut you off, we think that you only had a back sprain and you should have been back to work in six months. I looked at the phone and I said, well, sir, on the assumption that you are right - and from reading the Halifax Herald, I realize the money problems you say you are having - then why did you send me to 12 visits, to 2 specialists and pay for 30 visits to a chiropractor if I only had a back sprain? He said, it doesn't matter, you're cut off anyway.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for taking the time. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you for appearing.
MR. FISHER: Good luck in what you are doing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MR. FISHER: Prove me wrong, will you?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll try. Our next presenter is Mr. Warren Murley of the Athol Forestry Co-op. Good evening, Mr. Murley.
MR. WARREN MURLEY: Good evening. Before I start tonight, I just want to indicate the importance of my presentation. The Chairman of our Board of Directors has joined me this evening, Mr. Gerald Reid. Just to give you a little indication that this matter is very important to the co-op.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If Mr. Reid would like to come forward, he's welcome to. He may be bashful but it's all right.
MR. MURLEY: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to make a second presentation to your committee. As a result of the presentation that I made in Stellarton and the follow-ups made to you in Halifax by Mr. Peter O'Brien, Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, I would like to defend our position against a possible stand that may be taken by the Workers' Compensation Board.
Just to quickly refer to my previous presentation and the research that I did regarding the WCB rates for forestry consulting in the Maritime Provinces, you will recall that in New Brunswick, Athol Forestry would be paying 15 cents per $100 of assessment; in Prince Edward Island, we would be paying 25 cents per $100 of assessment; in Newfoundland 67 cents per $100 of assessment; and in Quebec, 94 cents per $100 of assessment; then we have the Nova Scotia rate for Athol Forestry Co-op at $9.92 per $100 of assessment.
Historically, we should be paying $690.31 but instead we have to pay, this year, $14,569.88. Apparently, the Workers' Compensation Board says that it cannot change the rates for Athol Forestry Co-op because large forest companies may then try to spin off their consulting and office operations to reduce rates for that segment of their operation. These operations would still be dependent on overall company operation and, therefore, the firm would be deemed a dependent contractor. This would exclude Athol Forestry Co-op and similar firms because we are not dependent contractors.
If you recall from my previous presentation, I provided documentation showing where we hired these dependent contractors to do the forestry work while we acted as the landowner's agent to make sure that the work was completed.
This position of Athol Forestry Co-op, being a dependent contractor, is taken by the Chief Executive Officer of the Workers' Compensation Board, Mr. David Stuewe. Mr. Stuewe is more concerned about a revenue loss than he is about forcing a small business into leaving this province.
Since the Stellarton meeting, I have learned that the Forest Safety Society of Nova Scotia has just been assessed by the board and were put in industry category 12, which is education and health; industry group no. 8510, which is post-secondary schools and museums; category 8521, which is agriculture, vocational college, post, s.e. - I have no idea what that means - with a rate of 66 cents per $100 of assessment. The Executive Director of this organization who does the training of dependent contractors is actually in the woods all the time.
I must say that I am encouraged by the fact that your committee has drawn some attention by the Workers' Compensation Board. I hope that attention can bring some positives to small businesses that are in the same position as Athol Forestry Co-op. Thank you for your time. I will entertain any questions.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you for your presentation. I appreciate it. This, actually, is fairly enlightening. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. How many forestry consultant firms, independent ones, are there based in Nova Scotia?
MR. MURLEY: I would estimate there is between 15 and 20.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Is that right? In the other provinces, they all recognize forestry consultants as a separate industry class, is that right?
MR. MURLEY: Yes, they do.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Okay. My understanding of the system is that it is meant to reflect the experience rating now, that depending on the type of work you do, you will pay, for example, if you are a mining company or a forestry company, you pay more for your insurance, your assessment because of the hazards involved.
MR. MURLEY: Correct.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: If I am correct from what you are saying, basically, given the nature of the work, you are a consultant. You are not actually the one cutting the trees, that it is a very low-risk job and, therefore, that should be reflected in the assessment. Is that what you are particularly saying?
MR. MURLEY: Absolutely correct.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Right. Well, it seems like a very reasonable argument.
MR. MURLEY: For example, the category they have us in is we are categorized with the exact same people who use a spacing saw, a power saw, and operate heavy equipment. We are in that category.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Right.
MR. MURLEY: We have typewriters and desks. Oh, we have an ATV.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Well, interesting.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Murley, at our hearings in Halifax, I think it was on September 10th, we had a presentation by the WCB. Mr. Stuewe was there, and gave some answers to our questions.
I think it was the last question of the day, I asked him about this very issue, about the rates and why they're so high for your type of companies. He defended, well, I guess we should outline here in the letter, you know, the reasons that are stated that you are lumped in with the other forest companies, and basically defended that issue.
However, upon questioning a little bit further he did say that they were studying that, they were looking at it and I particularly pointed out, in northern Nova Scotia here, where you are so close to New Brunswick that you could go across the border and set up business there. I'm not just sure in what regard they are studying it, but you might want to follow up on that, or perhaps you have some knowledge on that that I am not aware of.
MR. MURLEY: I appreciate your comment, Mr. Parker. I have been following it up now for four years. (Laughter)
MR. PARKER: Okay. Is there a study being done then? Is there something new that is going on here? That is the way he indicated, that they were looking at it at this time, at this issue.
MR. MURLEY: It sounds like an excellent defence. I don't know of any . . .
MR. PARKER: Okay.
MR. MURLEY: . . . as we have gone through the appeal process, there was certainly no indication made to us that there would be any bounds stepped out of the appeal process. We had to deal with that and that alone, there were no other avenues open to us.
MR. PARKER: Well, it is certainly a reasonable argument you make. I can appreciate where you are coming from.
MR. MURLEY: Thank you, sir.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, our next questioner would be Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good evening, Warren.
MR. MURLEY: Good evening, Ernie.
MR. FAGE: Warren, obviously then, the main recommendation we can certainly, I think, take from your representation again tonight is that we should be looking at a classification system or a recommendation to a modification that is even probably more in-depth. I think right now there is something like 6,000 categories that are quite rigid, on the interpretation. Certainly, we have had a lot of presentations from industries of different kinds in the Province of Nova Scotia that would like to have the categories narrowed down significantly and the power to put some variations within the board to realize that work.
MR. MURLEY: That's good, Ernie. One of the things that I did notice, in the forest industry we have three categories. Now, when I checked out this one for the Forest Safety Society, when they slipped them into education, there are close to 20 categories. Do we really need 20 categories for education and 3 for forestry?
I think the crux of the problem goes back to when they adopted the SIC code. It is an Ontario code and it does not fit the Nova Scotia environment.
MR. FAGE: The code was originally developed for statistical purposes, not workers' compensation.
MR. MURLEY: Correct.
MR. FAGE: I mean, it is like using the consumer price index to help determine what the price of socks will be next week.
MR. MURLEY: It is a good comparison.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, Mr. Erjavec.
MR. LUC ERJAVEC: Just one quick question. It seems you have a little bit more experience with the board on how they treat a dependent contractor. As the board said to us, oh, a major forestry company will set up a little office of 5 or 6 people and say, these guys, consultants, don't charge them the forestry rate. It seems you have looked into it. Maybe you could explain to us a little bit more on how the board would look at something like that as a dependent contractor.
MR. MURLEY: I think their major fear is - and I think any businessman in the room can relate to it, I mean, it is one thing to own a forwarder, maybe two or three processors, maybe four or five trucks. There is fuel that has to be purchased, there are salaries that have to be paid and you need an accountant or an office person to do all this bookwork for you. Or maybe you attribute your salary to doing that and do the work yourself.
I think what the board fears in assessing our case is that - and there are hundreds of these people throughout the province, I mean, anybody who owns a restaurant or a business of any kind knows that there is paperwork involved. I think the board's fear is that if they take our case and separate us into another category, that everybody is going to say, okay, because we do office work, I have a girl in my office who just does typing for me. They are going to want to take her out and have her at a different rate than the rest of their business.
Where we fall into another problem is the forest industry only having three categories. They don't have anywhere to put us. I believe that in the previous meetings, one of the gentlemen mentioned, take the word forestry out of our name. It is still something we are going to consider, sir. That is why I mentioned the Forest Safety Society.They mentioned forest and get 66 cents; I mention it and get $9.92.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am going to be only half facetious. If you became the Athol Educational Society, you might be better off. I mean, it sounds ridiculous but it seems to be that there is a bit of that going on.
MR. MURLEY: Actually, I think a name change would only cost me about $150 and I can make $14,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess the question I had was one for you based on your experience with the classification system. You indicated there were other companies in Nova Scotia that were purely consultants, independent consultants. Are they all assessed at the same exorbitant rate that you are or is there a varied rate depending on the luck of the draw?
MR. MURLEY: No, it looks like luck of the draw. I mentioned before that we are a group venture company.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. MURLEY: I think you heard from three or four of them. We are all classified as forestry but there are other forestry consultants out there. The way they whitewash themselves, instead of the consultant paying the contractor to do the work as we do, which is up front and forward, they wash the contractor's money through the landowner so it looks like the landowner has hired him, leaving them lily white.You get a difference.
Maybe back to an original question. You asked me how many there are: about 10 groups like ourselves; these lily white types, there are about five. That is where I got my number of 15.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So just simply because of how they actually do their invoicing . . .
MR. MURLEY: Correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: . . . is basically making a huge difference in the rate they pay?
MR. MURLEY: $14,000 in our case.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. So that those other companies invoiced directly, they arrange for the contractor who is actually doing the cutting, for example, to invoice directly to the landowner and, thereby, they avoid the classification and they get paid some kind of fee as a consultant.
MR. MURLEY: I could name you two companies now - I won't name names - that are paying in the 30 cent range, 37 cents actually.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And they are fundamentally competition to you?
MR. MURLEY: They are.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. That is my . . .
MR. MURLEY: Sackville is looking awfully good. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any further questions? Well, thank you very much for illuminating the subject even further.
MR. MURLEY: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It has been suggested that, perhaps, we might have a five minute break at this point. The chairs are rather hard and it will give everybody time to stretch their legs.
[8:24 p.m. The committee recessed.]
8:46 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter is going to be G.L. Cormier of SCL Technologies. Before Mr. Cormier begins, I would just like to make something clear for the members of the public who are here and that, of course, is that all the members of the committee are MLAs and in no way associated, or paid by, or here on behalf of the Workers' Compensation Board. In point of fact, none of the MLAs who are sitting here were MLAs when the amendments to the Act came in force on February 1, 1996. So I just thought for the point of view of the members of the public that might be interesting information. Thank you, Mr. Cormier. Go ahead.
MR. GERRY CORMIER: Mr. Chairman, you seem like a gentleman with a sense of humour so I have to ask you this question because it was brought up down there and nobody else will ask you. Were you a former RCMP officer?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, I am a lawyer.
MR. CORMIER: Well, they noticed that you had stopped at Tim Hortons on the way so they figured you had to be an RCMP officer. (Laughter) I couldn't resist that, I am sorry.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have to confess though it may be genetic. My father is a former police officer.
MR. CORMIER: It is interesting. I sit here tonight and I know many of the people, being a small town and being born and raised here. When Tom Fisher was up here, I can vouch for him. We played together as pre-schoolers and he was fat then. Right, Tom?
MR. CHAIRMAN: But his back was pretty good, right?
MR. CORMIER: That's right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I thought . . .
MR. CORMIER: I have heard Dr. Yabsley's name mentioned a few times tonight and before I get into my presentation I just have to comment. I had a personal experience with Dr. Yabsley, not myself but with my wife. I consider myself a Christian churchgoing person, not overly religious but I know that Dr. Yabsley, like the Lord is here and he is right next, because five specialists tell you one thing but he says the opposite side and everybody takes his word for it. So he has got to be that close to the Lord. Anyway, I just add that comment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Reverend Doctor Yabsley has been mentioned before.
MR. CORMIER: As I said earlier, I am here on behalf of the company of which I am the vice-president and general manager, SCL Technologies. We have made a formal presentation. I gave the secretary a copy so, hopefully, most of you have them. I will read the brief.
Dear Committee Members: The management of SCL Technologies Inc. have the following concerns with the present workers' compensation system. The contract manufacturing business is a very competitive business. We have seen margins eroding year after year. In the same time-frame we have seen our costs increasing. One major increase has been our Workers' Compensation Board assessment. Our basic assessment rate has increased 77 per cent since we started the business in 1994. Our rate in 1994 was 74 cents for each $100 of payroll and in 1998 it is $1.31.
We have paid the board $59,000 on our estimated payroll for 1998. While we acknowledge this rate is much lower than a lot of industries in Nova Scotia, we feel this money could be better used in supplying capital for the business. Over the past five years our total premiums to the Workers' Compensation Board have amounted to over $160,000 while over that period WCB has paid significantly less in claims to our employees. We believe that this $160,000 would have been much more beneficial to our community and our province had it been invested in job creation.
Electronic contract assembly is considered a light manufacturing environment. We go to extremes to ensure a safe workplace is provided for all employees. We have employed ergonomic consultants in the past to help design the most comfortable and correct work positions. Our managers are tasked with continually reinforcing safe work practices. We are also policed by the Department of Labour on a regular basis to ensure we meet their standards for a safe workplace. We feel the opportunity for accidents is minimal.
We have the impression that some physicians try to relate almost any ailment back to the workplace. The family or first contact physician appears to be making judgements on accidents that are increasing our basic assessment rate each year. We have had many incidents of back problems that end up being accidents, therefore get reported after the fact. The
assumption is that if you are required to lift at work, the problem must be job related. Life requires lifting whether it is a baby, the laundry or the garbage. We understand that physicians are paid extra for treating workers' cases.
We are fortunate in Canada to have social programs in place that look after all citizens. The unfortunate thing is that the employees and employer are taxed more each year to fund duplication in these programs. The programs all provide basically the same coverage for employees. EI and WCB both provide short-term benefits for employees unable to work due to physical problems. CPP, LTD and WCB provide long-term benefits for disabled employees. We provide an LTD benefit, long-term disability, voluntarily and support the fact this program benefits all employees regardless of the nature of their disability.
The higher benefits paid by the Workers' Compensation Board make a claim to that insurer more attractive. We do not feel that the hardships suffered by an employee due to cancer, for instance, are worth any less than an employee who bent over and picked up a box improperly. The way the system currently works, the employee with cancer has a two week waiting period and receives around 60 per cent wage replacement while the employee with the back problem has no waiting time and receives nearly 100 per cent wage replacement, I might add, if he is successful in his workers' compensation claim.
We would like to see the inequities taken out of the system. We appreciate the complexity of that task. The legacy of the abuse dealt the Workers' Compensation Board over the years has created the burden for the government and the employers of the province.
Our company, like most in the electronics field, must compete in the global market if we are to survive and prosper in today's high technology world. Obviously, we are already at a disadvantage with regard to wages compared to similar businesses in Mexico and the Pacific Rim. Our overheads are now being seriously affected as a result of being burdened with the highest workers' compensation premiums in Canada. Unless significant changes are made soon, our ability to compete will disappear.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our frustrations with the system. I might add, in the second paragraph, I checked with our accounting and finance department today. It is interesting to note, and you might want to make a note on the presentation, that over the five years we've been paying into workers' compensation, we have paid $160,000 and the claims that have been paid to our employees - and this is from a report that the Workers' Compensation Board publishes - equate to approximately $8,000. This year we have paid $59,000 and year-to-date our employees have received $58 in claims. So you don't have to be a brain to figure out that we could have taken those same claims, paid three or four times what workers' compensation has paid them, and still pocketed $125,000 which we could have put into job creation. That is what's disheartening.
I sit here tonight and I was a bit disturbed because I was so far down in the program but listening to some of the people tonight presenting, it doesn't sound like anybody is getting any money out of workers' compensation. So I got a question, where is all the money going?
MR. CHAIRMAN: A very good question.
MR. CORMIER: Somebody here tonight made a statement that 40 per cent was going to administration or something. I don't know what the figure is either but I am sure somebody around this table probably knows the figure better than I do. Can somebody answer that question for me? What is the percentage that goes to administration and wages and that type of thing?
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Twenty per cent. That is still quite high. I remember seeing the statistics. I was quite shocked to think that 20 cents out of every $1.00 going into WCB is . . .
MR. CORMIER: But the point from an employer standpoint is that we feel that things are double and triple. I mean you have got UI benefits that cover sickness and so on and so forth. You have got long-term disability through CPP. Most companies offer their employee long-term disability that the company pays for. On top of that it is mandatory we have to pay workers' compensation. Are the employees really getting the benefit out of it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess just as a matter of information for me, sir, how many employees does your company have?
MR. CORMIER: At present, 208.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And where would your main competition be for the products that you produce?
MR. CORMIER: We are an electronic subcontractor. Our main product is printed circuit board assembly and tests. We really don't have a whole lot of competition around Atlantic Canada. So we have to go to Ontario, we have to go the States and, as I say, when we do that, we're competing against Pacific Rim companies. We are competing against Mexico and so on and so forth. It is hard enough to compete with the labour rates which we know we can't because we don't believe in paying our employees minimum wage. We pay one of the top rates in the area, not the top but we're second or third in the area. We have good benefits. That is costly. So it is enough of a burden there without having to burden our overhead with exorbitant things like workers' compensation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parker.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sir, I guess a couple of questions from your presentation here. You mentioned one near the end, you had the highest premiums in Canada?
MR. CORMIER: Yes.
MR. PARKER: Do you have the statistics on the rates for similar types of industry in other provinces?
MR. CORMIER: No, I do not.
MR. PARKER: But you have researched it or you know that your rates are the highest?
MR. CORMIER: Our understanding is that Nova Scotia rates for our industry are the highest in Canada.
MR. PARKER: And you're paying $1.31 per $100 right now?
MR. CORMIER: Yes. We were led to believe when the new system came in, the revamped system, that things were going to improve but over four years, when you go up 77 per cent, I don't see a whole lot of improvement. Now, our record is very good but, obviously, there are other industries that we're classed in with within the province that are having problems; so we're all being penalized within that classification as I understand it.
MR. PARKER: Although your rate is high, it is certainly not anywhere near as high as the previous presenter. It was $9-something I think per $100.
MR. CORMIER: No, no, I certainly understand but at the same time I am sure I've got a lot larger payroll than what he does too. I mean we're considered a medium-sized company. It just blows my mind to think what are the small guys doing. They just can't afford to pay these rates and here we are trying to foster small business and create jobs through small business. We're going to put them right out of business because they can't afford to pay these things.
MR. PARKER: I understand where you're coming from. The other question I was going to ask you, you mentioned there about the comparison between somebody who is injured, hurt on the job, back injury, and maybe somebody who develops cancer and you mentioned they get 60 per cent if they are a cancer patient? Is that . . .
MR. CORMIER: Roughly, through UI.
MR. PARKER: You're talking the sick benefits through EI, is it?
MR. CORMIER: Yes.
MR. PARKER: As compared to the workers' compensation system where they get 100 per cent for a period of time anyway?
MR. CORMIER: Yes. In most cases they'll get a percentage and the company will top it up. So they're getting a large percentage. It just doesn't seem fair.
MR. PARKER: I guess I had one other question there, somewhere, I can't seem to find it right here, but you mentioned that the doctor is paid more for dealing with workers' cases, is that factual?
MR. CORMIER: We asked that question of the Workers' Compensation Board last Friday and we were told, yes, they are.
MR. PARKER: The doctors are actually paid extra for injured workers you mean, for dealing with their cases?
MR. CORMIER: That's what we're told. Well, they get more by treating you as a workers' compensation claim than they could put into MSI for treating you.
MR. PARKER: So it is not in comparison to somebody going with cancer, or whatever, or another problem, but in comparison to other difficulties in that regard, is it? They're getting paid more for treating injured workers than they would regular cases, is that what you're saying?
MR. CORMIER: That's right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Dr. Lamplugh has a comment or question.
DR. ANTHONY LAMPLUGH: Yes. I can clarify that. The fees that are paid are prorated to 90 per cent by MSI, but paid at 100 per cent by the Workers' Compensation Board but, in addition to seeing the patient, a written report has also got to be completed on each occasion, for which there is a separate fee. You are paid a bit more, but it does take longer.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Yes. I had a couple of points. I understand now, where you talk about top-up when you note the 100 per cent wage replacement for WCB, my understanding is under the system they actually only get 75 per cent of net and there is a five day waiting period, but for companies like yours that provide good benefits, they're going to get more.
MR. CORMIER: But even 75 per cent is a lot more than, I think I said 60 per cent . . .
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: 60 per cent, yes.
MR. CORMIER: But actually it is more like 52 per cent or 53 per cent on UI.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Right. Mr. DeWolfe noted, after I noted the 20 per cent, he said that probably doesn't include the money that goes to the consultants and the retraining and the lawyers and others. So really when you get down to it, it probably could be closer to 40 per cent. I thank him for making that point.
A couple of other things I guess I wanted to raise. One is I get the sense then from what you're saying is that if someone is paying LTD, maybe that should be equivalent to, or that should allow them to opt out of WCB if they provide a long-term disability plan to their workers, that maybe they don't have to be a part of the workers' compensation system. Is that what you were sort of suggesting?
MR. CORMIER: I think we're paying two or three times for the same thing.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Have you ever put any thought to the concept of having one income supplement instead of having CPP, LTD and WCB, where there would be one payroll tax put in and then, no matter how you are injured, you would be particularly paid a certain amount? It would sort of reduce potentially the amount that every employer is paying. Has that ever crossed your mind?
MR. CORMIER: Not really. It might work as long as the government didn't administer it.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Good point. My last point. I guess, back in 1996, one of the great benefits of the new Workers' Compensation Act was experience rating which I am sure you're probably familiar with, which was that now if a company had a good safety record and didn't have a lot of injuries, their rates would go down but, from what you're telling me, given the fact you have only had $8,000 in claims and you're still paying, I am sorry, is it $160,000?
MR. CORMIER: That's what we paid over the past five years.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Over the past five years, okay, but still you're paying a substantial amount?
MR. CORMIER: We paid $59,000 this year, and year to date they paid $58 in claims.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Have you seen any reduction in your assessment rates, given the fact you have such low claim rates?
MR. CORMIER: We have increased 77 per cent since we started in April 1994; that speaks for itself.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: But most of that is under the new Act and that's a real problem I think. I can only speak for myself on that, but I mean if the experience rating system was meant to encourage companies like yours to be safe and, therefore, they would have lower assessment rates, if that's not happening, then there is a major problem.
MR. CORMIER: I will be quite honest with you. We were quite encouraged when the new system came out because we were led to believe that if your accident rate is down - and as I said, we spend a lot of time and money on creating a safe working environment - we figured, well, hey, we're going to win on this thing. We haven't won.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Have you appealed the assessments that have been issued?
MR. CORMIER: The first two years I appealed. I think the first year it took me six weeks of fighting and arguing because there were a number of employees from the former owner of our business who had workers' compensation claims with them, who were not working for us, but were on my assessment. It took six weeks, talking finally to the top guy, and he got his computer expert on the phone. He said, Mr. Cormier, as we speak, those names are being taken off your assessment. Twelve months later, I got my assessment. Guess whose names were on that assessment again. So I spent another three weeks trying to get them off. It only took two years to get them off.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: You did eventually get them off?
MR. CORMIER: I eventually got them off, and they adjusted my assessment and so on and so forth.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: But it is still going up, even though . . .
MR. CORMIER: Still going up.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have a question, sir. I take it that you favour experience rate assessments, and in fact, you would probably favour it even more in the sense that your company has obviously had expenses that it has incurred in making a safe workplace, and those were costs to your company, obviously.
MR. CORMIER: Most definitely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And you are not seeing the fruits of your labour, so to speak, in the sense that while you have succeeded in reducing claims, which is good for the workers and good for the system, you haven't seen a reduction in the amount of your assessment.
MR. CORMIER: That is correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Obviously from your point of view, an even greater decrease in assessment based on a positive work experience, I assume you would agree that was a desirable thing?
MR. CORMIER: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The other thing is, and I am not sure how much your workforce fluctuates, but a number of presenters have addressed the problem of assessment, the once-a-year assessment system and estimating your payroll. It may not be a problem for your business, but I guess my question for you was, many people feel that workers' compensation assessments to employers should be billed in the same way other payroll taxes are, paid at the same time that you, for example, would pay your income tax deductions, your EI deductions, CPP and so forth, because you would have it on an actual payroll, and then you would know exactly what the percentage would be. I was looking for your comment on that suggestion.
MR. CORMIER: There is an opportunity to adjust it at the end of the year, if it is wrong. If it is wrong on the low side, then you are penalized for it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is my point.
MR. CORMIER: Which I don't like. And it has been very difficult for us, because in April 1994, we started out - and Ernie can tell you this - with 43 people. Today I have 208.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is a very good thing. We are not against that.
MR. CORMIER: Appreciate what I am saying in trying to estimate, because as we grow and obtain more business and grow the business, and that is what we are there for, to create jobs and so on and so forth, how do you estimate whether you are going to hire 25 more people this year or 50 or 75? It's very difficult. Talking about a safe workplace, and I have to add this comment because we are very proud of the fact, for years as Nortel, for years
that we have been in business as SCL, Department of Labour comes and does their annual inspection, and sometimes they come twice a year. In fact, I had a local guy in Springhill, so I think sometimes he had nothing to do, so he used to come in and see us. We used to see him two or three times a year. We always got a fairly good rating.
Last year, July, August, this guy retired, so we had a new one, it was a lady in fact that was appointed, she works out of Truro, and she had her supervisor from Halifax with her, came in and spent a whole day. At the end of the day, we got what they call a green sheet. They both told me that is the first time on a first visit they had ever issued a green sheet to any company. It means all systems are what they would want to see. I think that speaks for itself that we do spend a lot of money to try and create a safe workplace. We have a very active health and safety committee, and the employees formed that committee, and they work with management to continue to improve the safety of the workplace.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Erjavec.
MR. ERJAVEC: Good evening. Just one quick question, and then one a little bit longer. Any idea what the rate for your industry a few miles across the border, in New Brunswick would be?
MR. CORMIER: I don't off the top of my head, but I could find it out. I really don't know. I honestly don't know.
MR. ERJAVEC: The second question is, most if not all jurisdictions in Canada are seeing their average assessments go down. As the system stands here in Nova Scotia today, we are scheduled to have increases for the next 43 years. The committee is also looking at some recommendations which could cost the system and hence assessment rates. I know you are also seeing almost a doubling in CPP premiums. What impact do you think these cost increases would have on your ability to employ people here in northern Nova Scotia in the next few years?
MR. CORMIER: A tremendous impact. As I said earlier, in the electronics industry, there is not a whole lot of high-tech electronics industry around Atlantic Canada, so we are competing for work on the Eastern Seaboard of the United Stated. We do work for people in Atlanta, Georgia. The weather channel that everybody gets on their television, there is a satellite receiver unit that we make for them; we have been making it for eight or nine years now. We ship products, still do a lot of work for Nortel. This product goes all over the world. We are making boards for telephones. We make them as high as 5,000, 6,000 a day, and they are selling these things like hotcakes in South America, Central America, and so on and so forth.
To get that business, we are competing worldwide. It is extremely difficult to try and compete with a $2.00 a day labour rate in Mexico, and a 60 cents an hour labour rate in Malaysia. We have to prove ourselves with regard to quality and service and those types of things to get the labour rate out of the way, and now on top of that, our overhead is going up in leaps and bounds because of CPP increases, because of EI increases, because of workers' compensation increases. There is only so much of that we are going to be able to absorb.
As I said in my presentation, our margins have been eroding. Guess why? Because of EI increases, Canada Pension increases, Workers' Compensation Board increases. It gets to the point, our company is no different than any other, they are in business to make money. Now if they are employing all those people and the return on their investment is 2 per cent or 3 per cent, they can take that money and they can get more than that at the bank or some investment firm. So why bother? Why create all the headaches of running a manufacturing firm? Take your money and invest it. They are looking for a significant return on their investment. If they don't get it, they are not going to be here. It is as simple as that.
MR. ERJAVEC: Not wanting to put words in your mouth, but would a recommendation to this committee from you be that the committee should not look at anything that would increase assessment rates, that they should clean up what they have now, and not look at expanding the system?
MR. CORMIER: My recommendation to the committee is that we have to find a way to lower our workers' compensation rates.
MR. ERJAVEC: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Two areas. One, on occupational health and safety, you haven't addressed it in your brief, although the employers who are paying workers' compensation are paying the full force of the Occupational Health and Safety Division within the Department of Labour for Nova Scotia. It falls upon those covered by workers' compensation to pay the full cost of the occupational health and safety. Occupational health and safety covers all employers in Nova Scotia, but is paid for out of the Workers' Compensation Board funds.
MR. CORMIER: I am not following you sir.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: How shall we put it. I will put it another way. The cost of occupational health and safety in Nova Scotia is only being paid by that group of employers that are paying workers' compensation premiums. That represents about 40 per
cent or 50 per cent of the employers in Nova Scotia, but you are paying the cost of the total workforce in Nova Scotia. You are paying for 100 per cent of the employers.
MR. CORMIER: I am still looking for your point.
MR. FAGE: The point Charlie is making, I think Gerry, is that I believe it is $3.5 million to $4 million this year to run the occupational health and safety program, it would come solely out of the workers' compensation premiums. That is how it would be paid for, instead of general revenues of government.
MR. CORMIER: Then it bears out my point that if the occupational health and safety are giving us such a good record, why the hell are we paying all these premiums to workers' compensation.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: My point is, as well, that would you not feel that it should be paid for by all employers that are getting covered by it? The Occupational Health and Safety Act covers banks today, the banks don't contribute to the workers' compensation program.
MR. CORMIER: I didn't know that. They damn well should. If I have to pay it, they should pay it too. (Laughter)
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Now you are opening up something.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are not the first person to observe that.
MR. CORMIER: I worked for a bank for a number of years though.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: On the other side, you said you pay long-term disability.
MR. CORMIER: Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Or you contribute to long-term disability for your employees.
MR. CORMIER: Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: That is a co-shared program?
MR. CORMIER: No. That is paid for by the company.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay. I was just wondering. That is over and above compensation and Canada Pension and all the rest of it?
MR. CORMIER: That is correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. [Hyland] Fraser.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Gerry, just on that question then, I wasn't going to ask you anything, but on your group benefits, you say that the employer is paying for all of those benefits? The employee is not sharing in the cost?
MR. CORMIER: We pay for a set amount of life insurance and long-term disability. That is totally paid for by the company. Now we do have medical insurance, dental coverage, those types of things that are shared 50/50 by the company and the employee. The long-term disability is totally paid for by the company.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Whether you are aware of it or not, by your paying the premium for the long-term disability, the employees who would get that, who would go on claim, that is a taxable benefit to them. If they paid that premium, it is not. If the employee is paying that premium for the long-term disability, when they receive the benefit, it is non-taxable.
MR. CORMIER: Okay. I am aware of that. Yes.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Thank you.
MR. CORMIER: But it is a benefit that we chose to give to our employees when we started the companies.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Cormier, for making the presentation tonight. It is very useful to hear from employers about the cost of the system to them and how it affects their competitive advantage. Again, thank you for coming out.
MR. CORMIER: Thank you very much. My business card is attached to that presentation. If anybody would like to call me at any time, feel free. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Our next presenter is Vickie Huston.
MS. VICKIE HUSTON: My name is Vickie Huston. I am a tractor-trailer operator. I was injured in August 1988, when a crack in the fifth wheel of my rig caused the trailer to break free of the truck, locking on the air brake system. The truck stayed upright but as the brakes came on, the truck literally bounced down the road before it came to a stop. The
jerkying motion of the truck as it bounced caused my head to be thrust back and forth quite forcefully resulting in a whiplash injury.
Just recently, I watched the movie, The Rainmaker, and I wonder if the similarities between the big insurance company's policies and those of the Workers' Compensation Board are mere coincidence. For the past eight years, I have been ignored, rejected, patronized, embarrassed and more often than not, neglected. My case has been approved at different appeals for only specific medical aid associated with an on-the-job injury I received in 1988.
At this time, I do not know where I stand in relation to financial aid regarding my claim. I am told that I do not qualify for a pension or any financial assistance, although the board had agreed my injury was compensable. It seems to make no difference that I have been unable to work for the past two years. I have had to deal with the same case manager for most of the eight years I have been involved with the board. This case manager has done nothing for my morale, my health or my pocketbook. I think it would be to everyone's advantage if these case managers would take a serious look at how their attitudes affect their clients. During one phone conversation, my case manager told me most people would take the initiative and get educated or find another job.
Having initiative has always been one of my stronger traits. For example, I successfully completed a Personal Care Worker's course in July 1973. In March 1979, I received a certificate of achievement covering various areas of mental health care. In November 1985, I completed an Introduction to Trades Training for Women, being chosen best all-round student. In February 1986, I completed a straight truck driving course, receiving the top straight truck driver award. In January 1987, I completed the tractor-trailer course.
I have been a single parent most of my life, and have seen my two oldest children graduate from Acadia University in 1995; one with a psychology degree and a teaching diploma, the other graduated with a degree in recreation and is presently employed as Recreation Director at the Tim Horton's Camp in Tatamagouche. My oldest son is a freshman at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. He is enrolled in the information systems program. My youngest daughter and son are Grade 10 academic students.
The above achievements came about by initiative, dedication and perseverance. One can achieve many goals when our physical and mental health are good. When our health is compromised, other aspects of our lives are compromised as well. Outside forces, such as dealing with the Workers' Compensation Board for eight years for example, can have devastating effects on our lives, both professionally and personally.
I am unable to work because of the work-related accident, and I wonder how much more stress my personal life can endure. On Tuesday of this week, the last specialist who treated me phoned and asked if I would contact the board about payment for the treatments
they had previously agreed to cover. When I got through to the board, I was told the payment had been sent to the wrong address, but that it had been re-addressed and sent out again. It is amazing the amount of doctors, therapists and specialists who refuse to accept Workers' Compensation Board clients, and no doubt one of those reasons is stated above.
From the first time I contacted the Workers' Compensation Board, my life has been on a downhill slide. I wonder why after so much time has passed, I am still fighting for help from a source dedicated to helping injured workers. I would like to read the text of the mission of the Workers' Compensation Board: to coordinate the workers' compensation system; to assist injured workers and employers by providing timely medical and rehabilitative support; to facilitate the efforts of injured workers to return to work; and providing appropriate compensation for work-related disabilities.
None of the above attributes have been applied to my case, especially by my case manager. The only attribute to me has been more stress resulting in more pain, resulting in more severe depression. I can hardly recognize the woman I see in the mirror every morning. How I wish I could operate a truck again. How I wish I still had the stamina to participate in everyday life. My children don't understand what has happened to me, and why no one is willing to help. They do realize, however, the financial crisis we find ourselves in is very serious.
I keep being told that I am capable of doing some type of work. Maybe the board could supply me with a list of employers who wouldn't mind if I need to go home at 10:00 a.m. because I am too tired to work any longer, or an employer who doesn't mind if I am so depressed that I can't concentrate on any one thing, because the pain I am experiencing is all-encompassing.
Dr. Greg Gass had this to say in a report he prepared for the board in March 1992, "The circumstances of this case may be somewhat unusual due to the patient's late submission of an accident form, although it would be decidedly out of character for Ms. Huston to file a medical claim unless she was acutely injured. She would be much more upset at being involved in an accident involving potential damage to her employer's truck and she would expect to be stiff and sore and to suffer minor lacerations, hematomas, contusions and abrasions. She would neither consult a physician nor file a 'form of record' with the W.C.B. following her accident unless she perceived herself to have sustained a specific injury.".
Further on in the report he says, "I certainly agree with Dr. Delorey that Ms. Huston's T.M.J. Syndrome is the result of 'Traumatic' or Secondary Degenerative Arthritis Cervical Disc Disease sustained as a result of her accident of August 18, 1988. In conclusion it would appear to me that it is in the best interests of all parties concerned to get this patient back into the workforce as a productive member of society. Failure of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia to honor her claim is merely going to prolong her suffering, as well as her anxiety with regards to her inability to work, increase her indebtedness and perhaps
inadvertently increase the stress under which she functions to the point where she becomes permanently disabled due to some form of Chronic Anxiety Depressive Disorder. This lady has been a patient of this office since prior to my arrival as a physician in 1976. She is an energetic, cheerful and hard-working dependable person and an ideal patient.".
What is chronic anxiety depressive disorder? Here are some signs of depression: depression of mood; loss of interest or pleasure in normal activity; significant weight loss, weight change or change in appetite; changes in sleep patterns; changes in activity, you slow down or become nervous and anxious; loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; inability to think, concentrate or make decisions; recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. No one needs to ask which applied to me. All of the above.
After reading the report from Dr. Gass, it is obvious his predictions are true. Reading from his report, "Failure of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia to honor her claim is merely going to prolong her suffering as well as her anxiety with regards to her inability to work, increase her indebtedness and perhaps inadvertently increase the stress under which she functions to the point where she becomes permanently disable due to some form of Chronic Anxiety Depressive Disorder.".
My question is, where do I go from here? Whom do I call for some straight answers to my questions? How am I to provide the emotional and financial support for my family when I am so mentally and physically impaired? I did the best I could for my family and myself. I followed the rules set down by the board. Year after year, I continued to work while I waited for the board to make a decision on my appeals.
The effects of working have had devastating consequences on my physical well-being. Now I sit and wait, old before my time, for someone to decide my fate. I have very low self-esteem. I am considered by some to be antisocial and reclusive. If people could understand how much pain I endure on a daily basis, perhaps they would not be so judgemental. In order for me to be as comfortable as possible I wear an oral appliance at night, or whenever the T.M.J. syndrome pain is extreme any time of the day, and it is such an attractive appliance. I wear a back brace and have orthotics in my shoes.
If someone were to ask me to describe myself, I would have to say I am but a shell of the woman I used to be. In that shell is a woman who has forgotten how to have fun, how to socialize, how to relax and how to smile. All that is left is someone who is guilt-ridden, sad and chronically depressed. I have lost weight; at times I'm unable to concentrate, to think clearly or make decisions. At times of high stress my body will completely shut down and I have to go to bed because I cannot stay awake.
I have worked hard all my life to provide for my family, taken several government courses to improve my work skills and my financial situation. I feel that my claim meets the criteria to effect another decision from the board. Just as to how to get that accomplished is
a mystery to me. I have read numerous newspaper articles from people who are in the same predicament as myself. I feel the ship is sinking and taking the lot of us down with it. I wonder what the suicide rate is for people who have dealt with the Workers' Compensation Board and its rejection system; rejection again and again, obnoxious case managers, no assistance in getting the proper and/or appropriate help, patronizing to clients who are doing their best to keep their calm even when their lives are being torn apart because of escalating financial woes and deteriorating physical and mental health. The toll that this ongoing battle has taken on my life is inexcusable. I wonder how many Davids it will take to bring down this modern-day Goliath, the Workers' Compensation Board.
I have made this presentation in Halifax but by the time I had the chance to speak there were only three committee members left in the room. I was very disappointed and decided I needed to be heard by as many members as possible and that's why I am here tonight. After that presentation I was asked what I thought the board needed to do to make things easier for people seeking compensation. I have since thought about it and have decided that if the board would follow its mission statement, then our problems would be largely solved. I know there are those who will try to pull the wool over your eyes but, honestly, we all can't be faking it.
Personal interaction between case managers and their clients should be mandatory. In all the time I have been associated with the board I have never met my case manager or any doctor who has made a direct decision regarding my case. How can they make these decisions objectively without having first met the person whose life will be so dramatically affected by their decisions, or is this the one way the board handles its guilt complex, if indeed it has one? I would like to take this time to thank you for listening to my presentation and, hopefully, it has enlightened you of some of the problems we, as clients, are forced to endure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Huston. I just wanted to clarify something. What was the date of your injury?
MS. HUSTON: August 18, 1988.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wasn't sure whether it was 1988 or 1998 there for a while. So you were injured in 1988. Now, the accident that occurred, you were driving an 18-wheeler at the time?
MS. HUSTON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Were there any other vehicles involved or was it just your vehicle involved?
MS. HUSTON: My vehicle.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Were you placed on compensation benefits immediately after the accident?
MS. HUSTON: No, because it was what they call a traumatic injury that would take a period of time to show up and that's what happened in 1990. I sought help for the complaint of my jaw and it was T.M.J. syndrome at the end.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And that's when your condition began to deteriorate markedly?
MS. HUSTON: Yes. Well, when I first contacted the Workers' Compensation Board in 1990, they do that rejection thing. You have to do the appeal and the appeal and the appeal thing. So while they were doing that I was still working. I am a seasonal worker with the truck. So I worked through the spring to the fall and then had the winters off at which time I would go to the Dalhousie Dental School, which was pretty cheap, and had what work I could get done until they decided what they were going to do. So from then, and probably for the next four years, I did that.
Someone should have said, Vickie, you have got to stop driving the truck now because you're obviously making yourself worse and nobody did that. They just let me go, let me go. No one gave me any answers to what they were going to do or when they were going to it or if they were going to do anything. So here I am now waiting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So your condition deteriorated over the period of time from 1988 to 1994 when you finally stopped driving?
MS. HUSTON: No, I stopped driving in 1996, I think, or 1995 would be the last year I stopped driving.
MR. CHAIRMAN: But during that period of time you noticed greater problems with your neck, back, those kinds of things?
MS. HUSTON: Yes. I wouldn't work as long. The seasonal worker, sometimes you would get put off a month early, and I would do that if I had to because you just couldn't go any longer than then. That was it. Time was up.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Hi, Vickie. I apologize. I was one of those people away to another short meeting while you made your presentation in Halifax. I did read your presentation though when I did get back to my chair. One question that quickly arose in my mind though when I read through it, that was pre-1996 legislation, were you advised
or given any consideration to, instead of going through WCB, or they on your behalf looking at the automobile insurance with the truck? I know a number of cases were processed in that way during that era where . . .
MS. HUSTON: I have no idea.
MR. FAGE: . . . the car insurance or the truck insurance would have been the avenue that would have been handled by?
MS. HUSTON: But it wasn't my truck though.
MR. FAGE: No, but you were an injured worker and the insurance would have possibly covered you. That was an avenue that, since 1996 that is not allowed. Prior to 1996, if you were driving somebody else's vehicle while you were being employed, that was an avenue to get the case settled quicker or addressed. Was that ever suggested to you, that that was an avenue?
MS. HUSTON: I had never heard that.
MR. FAGE: Thank you. There are no further questions? Mr. Power.
MR. MICHAEL POWER: Mr. Chairman, I just had one question for Ms. Huston. Did you file an accident report back in August 1988?
MS. HUSTON: 1988?
MR. POWER: Yes, August 1988?
MS. HUSTON: No, I didn't file it until 1990.
MR. POWER: But there was a record of this incident obviously?
MS. HUSTON: Probably not at the Workers' Compensation Board there wasn't but with the police and all those people who . . .
MR. POWER: Right.
MS. HUSTON: And they had the abstract from that accident.
MR. POWER: And I take it that the problem that you've run into is the fact that there was an incident or accident in 1988 as being the origin of the problems that developed subsequently?
MS. HUSTON: Yes.
MR. POWER: And where are you presently in the system now?
MS. HUSTON: I get any dental, like my dentures were paid for, and any medication I am on, they pay for that, but that's it.
MR. POWER: And do you presently have an appeal before what they call WCAT?
MS. HUSTON: To tell you the truth, I have been trying to phone my lawyer at the Workers' Advisers Program and he hasn't returned my calls for two or three weeks. So I have no idea what is going on there.
MR. POWER: I see. Do you ever recall filing an appeal for permanent impairment benefits, a permanent pension?
MS. HUSTON: I think me and him talked about it but I think the last thing I heard from him was that I missed that Doward window, whatever, by whatever, and I flew way back to somewhere else and if I was eligible for anything, it would be a very small pension. That was like months and months ago and I have been trying to call him since these meetings started so I could get some input from him but I haven't been able to get hold of him. So I really don't know where I am at.
MR. POWER: And that is through the Workers' Advisers Program?
MS. HUSTON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Huston, for taking your time. Our next presenters are Drs. Maida and Paul Follini. I apologize, by the way, for the pronunciation of your name. I am sure it is mangled.
DR. MAIDA FOLLINI: I am Dr. Maida Follini. My husband decided not to come.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is fine.
DR. FOLLINI: Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for hearing me tonight. I am a psychologist in private practice who has been receiving referrals from the Workers' Compensation Board since 1996. Since April 1996 I have written psychological reports on seven WCB cases, six in connection with the WCB's chronic pain program and one not in that program, to assist the caseworker in delivering assistance.
As a result of this experience, I have seen some problems in the WCB functioning and have a few suggestions to make. One problem is deciding whether or not a worker has chronic pain. In a fact sheet put out by the WCB, chronic pain is defined, "Chronic pain is pain that persists beyond the normal recovery time for the type of injury sustained, or pain that is disproportionate to the nature of the injury.". The fact sheet continues, "No significant objective, physical findings are available to explain the presence of the pain.".
Chronic pain is described as resulting, "from many causes involving complex physical, emotional, psychological and social factors. Chronic pain cannot be said to be arising in and out of the course of work, and it is not covered under the Workers' Compensation Act. Injured workers are, however, entitled to compensation during the time the injury is healing. But once the injury has healed no further benefits are paid.".
The six workers I saw in relation to the chronic pain program had injuries resulting from the following accidents: lifting heavy wet sheets in a commercial laundry causing right arm, shoulder and neck injury; catching a sleeve in a machine, causing injury to arm, shoulder and neck; pushing a heavy wheeled bin, in a factory, that jammed suddenly wrenching the back; losing balance while hauling a heavy bundle of material, twisting the wrist and shoulder; dragging a 500 pound object and straining the back; using a knee-kicker machine in which the knees are used to work the machine while working in a bent over position causing stiffness and inability to walk; falling down stairs carrying a heavy load and injuring a foot; being buried by the caved-in side of a ditch causing a broken pelvis and broken vertebrae; having a truck turn over when the wet bank caved in and falling 10 to 15 feet from the truck causing broken vertebrae.
In each of these cases that I interviewed the workers continued to experience limitation of motion and pain relating to the injury. Yet these workers were either already cut off from workers' compensation payment or in fear of being cut off. As I interviewed these workers, I did not feel they fell into the category of chronic pain as defined above but rather into the category of pain related to an injury that had not healed. Each of the workers I interviewed was highly motivated to work and was anxious to get back to the world of work. All had worked since their teens and had many years of successful employment behind them. Several were very attached to their place of employment or their type of work and wished above all to return to their former setting. Others realized they could not return to their former physically demanding jobs but were interested in gaining other jobs or gaining skills they could do. In no case that I saw did I find the malingerer who was using an injury in an attempt to avoid work. In two cases, which I will call Case A and Case B, I felt that the worker was not compensated appropriately for his injury.
Case A. This worker, aged 52, was driving a truck for a contractor building the new highway by-pass and working 12 hour shifts demanded by the contractor. On August 19, 1996, he followed the instructions of his co-workers and drove the truck onto a bank which, because there had been heavy rains, was soft and collapsed under the truck. The truck went
on its side. The worker hanging by his safety belt turned off the engine. He released himself from his belt and fell to the passenger side. A co-worker helped him out of the truck and he slipped off the cab and fell 10 to 12 feet to the ground. Taken to the hospital, an X-ray showed a broken vertebra.
This worker was on workers' compensation for approximately 10 months. At that time he was X-rayed and seen by a WCB doctor in Halifax who could not find any physical reason for his continued pain and disability. His compensation was cut off. At the time I saw Case A he was continually in pain, had difficulty sleeping at night, could not sit or stay in one position for a long period of time, was stiff in the morning and had to walk each day to try to alleviate the stiffness and take his mind off the pain. He described the pain as being like knives thrusting up his spine. Case A lived on his savings for many months. He later applied for social assistance and is currently receiving $430 per month social assistance. Without help from his brother he could not maintain himself.
Case A had his family doctor refer him to a specialist in Moncton for a second opinion. The specialist X-rayed him and immediately upon looking at the X-rays found the cause of Mr. A's pain. One of the vertebra was injured and displaced. Case A was also given a CAT scan in Moncton which also showed the problem although Mr. A had been told that his CAT scan in Truro had not shown any problem. The specialist informed him that the Moncton machine was newer and better than the one in Truro. When the specialist's report was sent to WCB in Halifax, the caseworker informed Mr. A that it was one doctor's opinion against another and referred him to a third doctor for a third opinion. If you want to know where the money is going, you know, that's where it is going.
Mr. A has an appointment with doctor number three in December 1998, two and one-half years after the accident. This case exemplifies the lack of timely compensation for a worker injured through no fault of his own on the job. The worker has gone through not only the suffering and pain caused by his injury but the additional anxiety of being practically impoverished due to the accident.
Case B - aged 53, had worked since age 16 as a fisherman, logger and labourer. On October 13, 1993, he was employed by a construction company to dig ditches. He was about six or seven feet deep in a ditch when the side of the ditch collapsed burying him up to the middle of his chest. When he was dug out, he was placed in a station wagon because no ambulance was available, X-rayed and given pain medication at a local health centre, and driven several hours to the Victoria General Hospital.
He was found to have his pelvis broken, damaged vertebrae, bruising from feet to waist and back pain. The Workers' Compensation Board provided for him for a number of months, paying for him to have help with heavy chores and physiotherapy. After workers' compensation was cut off he went to social assistance. Mr. B has a disabled wife and two young children. He currently survives on Canada Pension for his disability. Mr. B is in
continuous pain, is stiff in the morning and cannot sit more than 15 or 20 minutes without getting up, walking, or changing position. This I observed when he was in my office. He was sitting in the chair. I had to go out of the office at one time and when I came back, I found that he was up trying to get the stiffness out of his limbs and back. He can only walk a limited distance before pain and fatigue increase. He can no longer be active at the heavy labour he had engaged in for 37 years and can no longer engage in recreational fishing, hunting and cycling as he used to.
Mr. B was concerned not only about his loss of functioning. He is not at all used to not working and not being able to do his own chores, such as cutting wood, but he is also concerned about finances. He is afraid he will lose his home because he cannot afford the mortgage payment. He has two children to bring up. Workers' compensation does not seem to have provided appropriate compensation for this worker's loss of livelihood due to injury at work. The method of determining whether or not a person has an injury based condition seems stacked against the worker as long as the agency that makes the payments is the agency which determines whether there is an injury. There is a built-in motive for the agency and its staff to save money rather than provide service.
I experienced some feeling of pressure from the WCB in relation to one of my cases. After submitting my report, I received a letter from Dr. Kevin A. Bourke, Medical Adviser, Central North Shore, informing me that he would not process the invoice for my fee unless I edited my report to conform to his desires. Fortunately, unbeknownst to him, I had already received my fee. I, of course, did not edit my report. But I did inform him of the rationale for the recommendations that I had made. I might say that I was somewhat affronted that a WCB staff member would request that an independent professional change her report in order to conform to the board's wishes and in particular, threaten to withhold payment.
Suggested solution. Wouldn't it be better if workers were able to sue their employers for a work-related injury? For example, suppose a labourer made $20,000 per year and is injured at age 50, so that he cannot work again. Assuming he would have earned $20,000 a year for the next 15 years, the employer could compensate the worker for his lost earnings, $300,000. The worker could then invest this and receive approximately $20,000 a year in income from the investment. Employers, of course, would pay for liability insurance, which would help them cover these accidents. The insurance companies would work with the employers to reduce work place injuries by tightening up on safety standards, for example, making sure earth banks were safe before allowing trucks to drive on them, shoring up the sides of ditches with scaffolding, so that they won't collapse on workers. Obviously, it is the employer's negligence when these accidents happen. Why should the labourer be impoverished as well as suffering the pain of the injury?
The Workers' Compensation Board is not at present very effective in providing for compensation, and in fact, stands in the way of workers gaining compensation through suing their employers. I would suggest that government could help workers by providing legal
services, lawyers, to carry out the legal fight for compensation from the employers. One of the problems of suing is that workers are often not financially able to pay for legal representation. Government could provide the lawyers and the expertise which unsophisticated workers may lack.
An additional problem of the Workers' Compensation Board is the stress on returning injured workers to work. Many of the disabled workers work at physically demanding jobs, and these are often the ones which are likely to cause injury. The disabled worker, particularly if over 50, often has little chance of learning a different kind of work. Once he or she is not able to do the physical work they have done all their lives, they find there is little available that they can do. These workers deserve consideration. Often they have worked since age 13, 14 or 15, in the fields, the woods, on boats, lifting, hauling, heaving.
While I am all for retraining if it is feasible and leads to a real possibility of work, I don't see the point of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, especially when there aren't even many round holes available. In other words, there are not that many jobs available in rural areas for the older, disabled worker, but their previous many decades of hard work need to be recognized and their dignity preserved with a reasonable income. Thank you for hearing me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That you, Dr. Follini. First I all, I will ask if there are any questions from members of the committee? Mr. [Hyland] Fraser.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I am intrigued by your suggestion of allowing workers to sue their employers to get their claim settled. My understanding, and I stand to be corrected, is that Workers' Compensation Board handles about 30,000 claims per year. In the legal world, I guess, if everybody decided that they weren't going to pay until somebody got a lawyer's letter or something. I am wondering if doctors would perform the work, a lot of these are things were somebody needs stitches and goes to a doctor and gets them stitched and away they go, and if the company refuses to pay that, then somebody has to sue or something to collect their monies. I can't see that being a more efficient system, and in fact, in bigger claims, it is going to be years before workers would ever get anything out of it when it is finally settled, if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada or wherever it ends at in big claims, let's say on a $300,000 claim, that is the example you used.
I am just wondering, how do you think that would be better than many of the claims that are settled, apparently fairly quickly today, although workers are coming before us who are waiting many years for a settlement? There must be a lot of claims that are settled immediately or shortly after.
DR. FOLLINI: Of course, I don't know all the statistics. The cases I dealt with, as I said, had all either been cut off or were afraid of being cut off, and were anxious about it. In fact, my husband, if he had come there, one of the cases he had, he had been told before
hand that the case was suicidal and when he talked to this particular individual, the individual said, you know when I see the workers' compensation people, I feel like committing suicide. I don't feel the workers' compensation is working now, just from my own narrow experience. I think that being able to sue would at least put it in the hands of the worker, control in the hands of the worker.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I guess if I were to make some suggestion on that, maybe if there were time lines put in, after a certain period of time, if there wasn't a reasonable settlement where a worker may then have the opportunity, within say six months or a year, whatever, to put priority into getting it settled by the board. If it is not settled after a certain period of time, and I am not talking after 5 or 10 years, I am talking after a reasonable period of time, where medical evidence is sought and received and analysed and whatever, that a worker may, at some point in time, have the opportunity to sue the employer if he or she is not satisfied after that. I guess I would just be a little fearful of starting off from day one, when apparently a number of claims are settled. Doctors fees are paid, things like that, apparently in a timely basis, if 30 claims are done a year. I will just pass that on.
DR. FOLLINI: I just think that would be a help, to have a time limit to settle a case. Personally, I don't see why the worker isn't given the benefit of the doubt, and the compensation started, and then if later on it turns out that it is not feasible, then it could be cut. But I do think it is stacked against the worker. If the doctor is hired by the compensation board and if everything is hired by the compensation board, how is the worker to get a fair shake? It seems to me, certainly a specialist, an orthopaedic specialist at a good hospital like Moncton Hospital, should be taken into consideration. Why should a person have to go to another doctor and another doctor and then maybe another doctor, until the Workers' Compensation Board gets the answer they want.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I don't disagree with you there. In the process, from the time an injury happens to sometime down the road, maybe there has to be closure. I think that is one of the things the committee will look at, some time lines where workers will get dealt with in a timely basis. I think that is what we are seeing is the delay in procedure where we have had workers come before us for the last four or five weeks that we have been travelling around, and there is no sense of time. It is urgent on the worker's behalf, but on others, it is not. It is not an urgent thing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. [Kevin] Deveaux.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Picking up on Mr. [Hyland] Fraser's point, we don't seem to have, and maybe there is, but we don't seem to have a flood of people with car accidents complaining about long delays in getting their payments. She raises a very interesting and intriguing suggestion, one that, I think, and I would be the last one to promote a private insurance company as an answer to this. But having worked in the system for a while before taking on this job, sadly it is something that maybe should be considered.
The irony is, Dr. Follini, that the legislation does give the benefit of the doubt to the worker, unfortunately, it is the administrators of the actual legislation that seem to read that in a very different way.
I want to get to your particular point, which surprised me to a great extent. Near the bottom of your second page, you note Dr. Bourke, writing you a letter with regard to withholding your fees if you didn't write the report in a particular way. That is a fairly shocking situation. Was that a one-time incident, or are there others?
DR. FOLLINI: That was one incident. I was quite shocked at it but it was one incident.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: One incident too many as far as I am concerned, but I guess the question is, do you see any suggestions for how that can be avoided?
DR. FOLLINI: Dr. Bourke, in his letter, said that the psychologist should be serving the board not the client. One of the things he objected to was, I sent a letter summarizing the results of the assessment to the client. It was a short one-page letter, and I sent a two or three-page detailed report to the board. He objected to me sending a feedback to the client. One of the things he objected to was that one of my recommendations was that the client have a meeting with his case manager.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Are you still contracted to do work for workers' compensation?
DR. FOLLINI: I don't expect to get any more referrals, and frankly, as Clark Gable said, I don't give a damn.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I know, but that raises a very interesting question. Have you received any referrals in the recent past?
DR. FOLLINI: Not since this one, no.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: When was that? Roughly.
DR. FOLLINI: Within this year, it was maybe a few months ago.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Do you have a term contract with them?
DR. FOLLINI: What they did was they recruited specialists, including psychologists who wished to have an agreement with him. I have an agreement with him, not with him, with the Workers' Compensation Board. They gathered us in Truro and gave us a training, a good training program on chronic pain. The upshot being that I expected to see a lot of true chronic
pain clients who needed psychological counselling to encourage them to get back into the workforce. What I saw was a group of truly injured people who did not have chronic pain in the definition of WCB, their pain was chronic but it wasn't the chronic pain that didn't have any organic basis. It was pain with a real reason for being there. You can tell the difference by observing a person and talking to them.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I must say, I worked in the system for awhile, Dr. Follini, and your report here and presentation has been very enlightening to me as to that perspective, that I never saw before. I appreciate it.
DR. FOLLINI: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Godin.
MS. GODIN: Thank you, Dr. Follini for coming here tonight. I just want to pick up from what my colleague said and was speaking with you about. You said that you have had six . . .
DR. FOLLINI: Referrals.
MS. GODIN: Referrals, and actually I am just reading it, so you have written six reports.
DR. FOLLINI: Yes.
MS. GODIN: And you had the problem with the one.
DR. FOLLINI: With one, yes.
MS. GODIN: I just want to say that we have been travelling as Mr. [Hyland] Fraser was saying for four or five weeks here, and we hear a lot. People feel that they are not being cared for or cared about. I just want to commend you for coming out tonight. It is just wonderful. It obviously shows that you do care about the people that you have been dealing with, and I think that is extremely refreshing considering what we have been hearing the last four weeks. I, for one, would wish that the WCB would send a few more people your way. I hope that happens.
DR. FOLLINI: Thank you. You can't help but be sympathetic when these people tell you their life stories. Some of them, as I say, have been working since age 13, 14, and 15, and obviously want to work, are hard workers. Their injury has made them give up, not only their work but their recreation, they are no longer hunting and hiking and boating and so forth. These are not people who are faking.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: Dr. Follini, great to see you tonight. Just a few quick questions. You had six referrals. Did all six, the one without the problem, those other five, all six cases go copied to the client as well, or was it just this one that went to the client?
DR. FOLLINI: No. Actually, I had seven referrals. One referral from WCB, it was not a chronic pain case. It was a severe injury case of a man building a barn, he fell off when the scaffolding collapsed and he couldn't walk again. In that case, I believe his caseworker was looking after him very well, and making sure he got the appropriate medical and physio and so forth treatment.
Of the six who were in the chronic pain program, I didn't give them feedback in writing. Some of them, I saw more than once in a counselling situation. I gave them all some sort of oral feedback, but the reason I gave this particular case a feedback in writing was because I had done some short psychological testing with him, and he was worried about a particular problem, which I was able to reassure him about. That particular problem didn't have anything to do with his injury. I was also able to give him the recommendations which I thought would be helpful to him. One of the recommendations was that he needed to talk to a bank counsellor or a financial counsellor at the local bank in order to see if he could renegotiate his loan, because his mortgage, he should talk to someone who would help him manage his money. That was another recommendation that Dr. Bourke objected to.
I am trying to think of what else. I made several recommendations. Another recommendation I made, this gentleman had finally gotten on Canada Pension for disability. He was appealing his WCB cut-off, but he had finally gotten on Canada Pension. One recommendation I made was to stay on Canada Pension because it was a sure thing, whereas if he were to try to go on voc rehab through workers' compensation, even if he were rehabilitated, even if he were to get a job, there is no idea that the job would last. You might work for three months, six months and be laid off. So I had recommended that a bird in the hand is better than two in a bush. That again, Dr. Bourke didn't want me to make any recommendations about this. I felt that this was my job. I was working with a client, and I was supposed to be helping the client.
MR. FAGE: I think it is very important in your position when you are doing that to be subjective for everybody. I think that is what you were attempting to do there. When we have gone across this province with these hearings, I think everybody is trying, or most people at least, in the system are trying to give good advice. A common thread that certainly seems to keep developing is that different cases are dealt with in different manners. Maybe that is human nature, but advice is given differently, whether it is a workers' adviser, advising
a client to take a small settlement; those type of judgements, whether it is the caseworker themselves advising to appeal or not to appeal. We have heard that across the entire province.
It seems the real common thread to me is, the WCB seems to work well enough in the short term, we are not getting a lot of complaints, but as soon as you move into the category of long-term disability, when that injured worker crosses that threshold where they would be on permanent benefits, the system seems to have built-in checks and balances, no uniform or concise information data bank for the injured worker to turn to, no standard protocol procedure for it to move ahead, and it is subjective recommendations from a whole number of sources at that point. People come before us very bewildered and frustrated by what they have encountered with their experience after that point.
DR. FOLLINI: I think so, and interestingly with long-term disability, one of the reasons I would tend to look for a suing and an insurance type of settlement is, my understanding is that disability payments can be very small. I was told this by a staff worker, that it might be $100 a month or something like that. Whereas people who are in an accident and sue, they are taking into consideration the loss of income, and the loss of income for 10 or 15 years is a huge amount. You can get something which really compensates you for what the injury has done to you, as opposed to just getting a pittance, a few pennies thrown at you because you are now disabled and you are not worth anything.
MR. FAGE: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, thank you doctor for coming here tonight, and enlightening us on this matter. It angers me, it doesn't surprise me, having heard so much the past weeks, but it certainly angers me that pressure was put on you by a medical adviser to alter your report to conform to the Workers' Compensation Board's decision. I totally understand the confidential aspects relating between a doctor and a patient, but I am wondering, without compromising that, could you provide us with that letter, with the patient's name removed, possibly?
DR. FOLLINI: I could do that. I will have to go to the Xerox and do some cutting out.
MR. DEWOLFE: It has been done before for this committee, and I would appreciate it very much, and I think it would be useful to have as a document when we are deliberating. Also, just out of curiosity doctor, Case A is going to be seeing a third doctor in December 1998, would that be Dr. Yabsley by any chance?
DR. FOLLINI: No, no. This gentleman has been referred by his family doctor to a specialist. Actually the name given me was a Dr. Alexander, but I don't know him, and I don't know where he is.
MR. DEWOLFE: And just going back to this other matter again, as I said, it does anger me. Were you ever faced with anything like this before in your career, with pressure like this?
DR. FOLLINI: Not since I was graduate student. No. I can understand, if he didn't like my report, perhaps he could have sent the client to another psychologist. I am not saying my reports are the be all and the end all, someone else may find something different. If you don't agree, if you go to a doctor and you don't like how they have diagnosed you, you can go to another doctor. But I felt it was uncalled for for him to think that he was able to try to influence an independent professional, and I was particularly upset by the idea that he would attempt to retain my fee and not pay me after all that work.
MR. DEWOLFE: I totally agree. It is appalling, really. Shocked and appalled as my colleague said there. And it is well put. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Dr. Follini for taking your time.
DR. FOLLINI: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter would be David Coleman. Good evening, Mr. Coleman.
MR. DAVID COLEMAN: Hello. My name is Dave Coleman. I was before you down in Truro. I gave you a presentation then, had it all written out. Tonight, I have nothing written out. You will just have to bear with me here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure. Go ahead.
MR. COLEMAN: I was injured, I haven't got all the dates on me, back around 1987, I think. I have been to a number of specialists, but I have had three specialists write to the compensation board saying that I have a back injury and it was definitely job-related. I went to the rehab down in Halifax, seen Dr. Mahar down there. He also wrote them a letter saying that my injury was definitely job related. Off and on, compensation a number of times. I have been to my Ombudsman, they called them. The put me back on compensation after they cut me off for awhile. I went to the labour board and got a lawyer after I was cut off, and they got me back on compensation for awhile.
Compensation gave me some money to start a store, but I wasn't given any stress tests or anything like this. They just gave me the money. I had to mortgage my home for the rest of the money for the store. I kept it up for a number of years there, about five years. At the end of it, I just couldn't stand any more. I had to sell the store. I sold the store at a loss because I couldn't keep it up.
I was told, when I was given this money for the store, that I would be assessed for a pension. As soon as it came to being assessed for it, cut off again. Every time I got a caseworker that wanted to do anything for me, they would be gone. I would get a caseworker who was sassy, and they were ignorant sometimes, I would be cut off. And then when I get another one when I went back on, it might be a nice one. They would talk to you, be polite with you, try and help you, they would be gone until I get one of these ones that would be just ignorant. They wouldn't give you the time of day. Every time I got a good one, they were always gone. The one that said I should be assessed for a pension, she was gone. I never saw her again. I called down there different times, and they say she is not even there anymore. It has always been that way.
The doctor that I went to see at the compensation, when they told me I had to go see a doctor, I went in to see him this one day, he had to help me into his office, because the drive down there and stuff, I just couldn't hardly walk. He helped me into his office. He never looked at the X-rays that I took down with me at all. I don't think I was in there any more than about 15 or 20 minutes at the most. Every time I have gone to a specialist, I would be with them for about an hour or close to it. They spend some time.
This general practitioner that they had there, he never spent any time, never did any tests on me at all. He never even bothered to look at the X-rays. The next day when I went in for compensation again, their doctor said I was cut off. When you go in to see this doctor, he has a wheel there, and he spins it. If it comes up no, you are out. If it comes up yes, you might get a pension out of them. There are a lot of noes on it and very few yeses.
I just feel that they do what they want. I have gone through all the appeals except for the last one. I am going through this tribunal, but I don't put much hope in that now, because it is all just people that work for them, and they are not going to go against their own. The outside appeal, we used to go through courts and stuff, they tell me you can't do that anymore. The lawyer that I had, he said that he has done all he can because they don't go to the courts. So it is just the tribunal that I am waiting for now.
I have been waiting on them now for three years. Like you were saying there earlier, if it goes to the Supreme Court, you have to wait for them, well, I have been waiting since 1987. The Supreme Court wouldn't take that long.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Coleman, I take it that one of your frustrations over the years is the constant turnover of caseworkers?
MR. COLEMAN: Right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The fact that you never have the same caseworker for very long, am I getting you correctly?
MR. COLEMAN: The problem there is that every time you get one that will be reasonable with you, try and help you, they get rid of them. They always put you with somebody else until they can get somebody who is ignorant enough with you to say, oh, you are gone. And that is it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I also take it that you have had a lot of difficulty in the past with some caseworkers whose behaviour was far less than professional? They were not civil to you in other words.
MR. COLEMAN: I have had at least three of them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Again, I wasn't in Truro, so perhaps some of these questions were asked in Truro, so you will have to bear with me. With respect to your appeal now, you have a lawyer with the Workers' Advisers Program?
MR. COLEMAN: I had a lawyer but I got a letter from him saying that he wouldn't be able to help me any more because there are no more outside appeals.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So your workers' adviser has abandoned you or said that he can't help you anymore.
MR. COLEMAN: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: In your years of seeing workers' advisers, did they come to see you or did you always have to go to Halifax to see them?
MR. COLEMAN: I always went to Halifax.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Did any of them ever volunteer to come meet you?
MR. COLEMAN: There was a couple of them that come up I think, when it first started and it was always down there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry, I didn't catch the last part. Could you repeat that?
MR. COLEMAN: There were two of them, I guess. There was one from the workers' compensation right at the first, he came up and then I was going down there after that. Then when I was transferred from workers' compensation to the rehab part of the workers'
compensation, there was a girl, she came up and then it was always down there after that again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will see if there are any other committee members who have a question for you. I guess the one last question that I would have, Mr. Coleman, is you have obviously had a serious injury. What is the nature of your injury?
MR. COLEMAN: It is my back. I don't know really what is wrong with it. The doctors, they give you different things and I don't understand what they are saying so all I can tell you it is a disc in my back.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The discs? Okay, so it is a physical problem. They have been able to identify physical things that are wrong with you. They haven't said to you that . . .
MR. COLEMAN: They haven't really said what it is. All I know is the specialists say I definitely got a back injury. Surgery would do me more harm than good and they haven't given me terminology that I can understand to tell you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you again, Mr. Coleman, for taking the time to come in this evening. I know that you have made a real effort to share with us your problems with the system and in particular your suggestions about what maybe we can do about fixing it.
MR. COLEMAN: One thing I think you could do is probably give the workers the benefit of the doubt and then maybe hire a dozen people to go out and check on them. Like you hear all the time, people on full benefits or full pensions. I heard of one down in Halifax when I was down at the rehab centre, they said there was a fellow down there in Cape Breton, he was getting a full pension and he was up building homes. Well, get somebody to go out and check on these fellows, catch them and cut them off then. But the poor, those of us that's got to fight every tooth and nail and is not getting nothing out of them, it is not right. I know there are a number of people that should be on compensation and they are not getting anything out of them. You see others all the time that shouldn't be getting it, are getting something and they are out playing ball or you know. Get somebody to go out and check on them. They'd save a lot of money there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think you are right, sir, and I think the problem is that there is probably more paranoia about those people. I think there are probably far fewer of them than some people believe. That is my honest assessment. Anyway, thank you very much for all your time and your suggestions.
I believe our last presenter for this evening is Debbie Welton. Thank you very much, by the way, for your persistence. It is always hard to be at the back of the bus. Thank you again.
MS. DEBBIE WELTON: My name is Debbie Welton. I don't have my claim numbers with me. My troubles began back in October 1996. I was diagnosed with tendonitis in my thumb. My claim was rejected because I had no specific injury, it was just like repetitious.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Was it what they call repetitive strain injury?
MS. WELTON: Yes. I had an appeal. I won my appeal in July 1997. In the meantime, in May 1997, early in the month, I had an injury to my left elbow. At the end of the month, it was my right arm, I had difficulty with it. So I was diagnosed with what they call bilateral tendonitis. I had golfer's elbow in one arm and tennis elbow in the other arm. In the meantime, my family doctor was about to leave town so I had no family doctor during July of last year and my claims were in process, I guess. In August my job was terminated.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your employer terminated your job?
MS. WELTON: I guess I was a bad risk.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What kind of work do you do?
MS. WELTON: I was in manufacturing, like assembly type work. In all these instances, the doctor supported my claims that my injuries were work-related and even the specialist in Moncton, she had stated that my injury was work-related and I still had to go through the appeal process to get that one won. I am still having problems to this day. Therapy doesn't help much, but I have cortisone shots and it relieves the pain for maybe three or four months. But I don't think workers' compensation is paying for this treatment because my claims are all closed. I guess that is the issue. They don't believe in repetitious work. You have to have a specific injury. They don't believe what the doctors and specialists are telling them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Welton, I take it the doctors you have seen are unanimous that this repetitive strain injury occurred as a result of your work.
MS. WELTON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Despite the fact that the doctors all have the same opinion, the Workers' Compensation Board isn't willing to compensate you. Is that what you have been told?
MS. WELTON: I had three claims. My arms were two separate claims. My claims have been approved but since the claims are now closed, any treatment that I have now, I don't know what I would have to do to get treatment approved, something about reopening the claims.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Why were your claims closed? You are not back at work, obviously.
MS. WELTON: I am now at different work.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are working a different job, are you?
MS. WELTON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The job that you are working, does it pay the same amount as the job that you used to work at?
MS. WELTON: No.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It pays less, I take it.
MS. WELTON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you be making 75 per cent of the take-home that you used to make?
MS. WELTON: I was making about $8.65 an hour before and now I am making $5.75.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am not very good at math.
MS. WELTON: I can't do that type of work anymore, factory work. But now I am a clerk at a convenience store so I don't know how long that is going to last.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand. But you still haven't been getting any help with your medical treatments, those kinds of things?
MS. WELTON: No. The last time I went for physiotherapy at the Highland View Regional Hospital, I requested that it be put in for a workers' compensation claim and I was told it would be just a waste of paperwork so it wasn't put in.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Thank you. Mr. Power and then Ms. Godin.
MR. POWER: Debbie, welcome. I was just going to say to you, perhaps you should seek legal advice right away on your particular claim. I am not quite sure that the claims are closed and it seems to me that you are under the new system, or the new Act, and you should be compensated for your wage loss. There is an identifiable wage loss so I would recommend that if you haven't made access to the Workers' Advisers Program that . . .
MS. WELTON: The last time I did, they said it would have to be an amount over $500 or something to that effect, a certain amount.
MR. POWER: It certainly seems to be over $500. So there is access to that toll free number. There is a paper at the back of the room, you may want to pick one up and have a call.
MS. WELTON: So I might be entitled to a workers' adviser?
MR. POWER: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Godin.
MS. GODIN: Ms. Welton, is the problem, as you see it, that there was no real date of injury?
MS. WELTON: Initially, yes. One of the claims that I put in, when I sent further information, I kept a log book at work, I went back and gave specific dates that I did more heavy work or more strenuous work. I also mentioned possibility of retraining. Right away, my claim was approved.
MS. GODIN: Oh, is that right? Just one other question. Did you ever go through any mediation process or ADR? Does that mean anything to you? Did you ever hear that?
MS. WELTON: No.
MS. GODIN: Okay, thank you very much.
[10:27 p.m. Mr. Hyland Fraser took the Chair.]
MR. HYLAND FRASER (Mr. Chairman): Is there anyone else? I would like to thank you very much, Ms. Welton. for coming before us tonight and thank you for telling us your story.
MS. WELTON: Okay, thanks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Since I just came to the Chair, there is one other name here, Terry Rhindress. Is that individual here, yes come right forward there, please.
MR. TERRY RHINDRESS: I would like to thank all the people who attended here tonight because we would have been missed. It was on July 16th, I think, I found out that the hearings were going on, so I got hold of Ernie and made some phone calls and press releases and the radio. We have to do these things up here. Why we have to press, I don't know. They
seem to stop at Truro and there are some sad stories here tonight and I hope that somehow that these people can get help. If you need any help, don't hesitate to call me. I am in the telephone book. I am not hard to find here in Amherst. Everybody knows me. Thank you for coming and I am glad the heat worked. Like I said, I thank the injured people who came here to speak because it is not easy to come up here and speak in front of a crowd and I want to thank you again. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank you, Terry, for making the effort to bring it to the attention of Ernie, who is very conscious of the people in the area, and certainly to bring it to our attention to make this as one of our stops. I guess we could go to many other places in our province and hear the same sorts of things but I think, you know, there were a couple of presenters tonight who brought information that we hadn't heard before and with your efforts and Ernie's and the rest, we are certainly glad to have been here tonight and we thank you and everyone for coming. I know it is an effort for injured workers to get out. We had people here who came the second time who felt that perhaps the first time they didn't get their proper say or in some cases had new information to provide to us. So we thank them, as well, for coming here.
So, on behalf of the committee, we would like to call this meeting to a close. If anyone has any other information, the committee is going to be sitting over the next few weeks, drafting in a report. If you have other information you would like to provide to us, please feel free to either contact Ernie or someone else from the committee that you may be familiar with and send that information along because we will continue to receive information until the report is complete. So with that, thank you very much and good evening.
[The committee adjourned at 10:30 p.m.]