2005 News

Worker's comp in Massachusetts: punitive, inadequate and unfair

10.15.2005

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2005 Edition

By Chris Pontus, MS, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director, Health & Safety

I met Andrea Goldstein on June 29 at the State House while there to testify in support of two bills that deal with workers compensation. H.3777 addresses changing the process for terminating benefits, medical rates for treatment, lost wage compensation and the employers’ role in lump sum agreements. H.3776 considers fair medical rates for treatment.

Andrea was there as a frustrated injured worker who could not believe how punitive and detrimental the existing workers compensation system is. What follows is her testimony.

On June 1, 2004, I was injured in a work-related accident. I am a nurse who was working as a marketing representative for a for-profit hospital corporation. I was stopped at a major intersection when I was hit from behind and pushed into the car in front of me.

It has been nearly 15 months since my accident, and I am no closer to returning to work than I was that day. I have the Massachusetts worker’s compensation system to thank. In 1991, in a shameful display of blaming the victim, laws were passed to slash benefits to injured workers. In the 14 years that have passed, no balance has been restored to the system. The worker’s compensation system in Massachusetts is punitive, inadequate, unfair and harmful to the injured worker’s health and well-being. 

A huge issue affecting injured workers is access to medical care. This should be of major concern to nurses, who care for all. In addition, doctors have become our adversaries as reimbursements from worker’s compensation are low, and there are no laws that force a physician to treat a patient on compensation. I was scheduled for back surgery last fall, and when the doctor’s office manager found out it was a worker’s comp case the surgery was cancelled.

I have been turned away for surgery by nearly two dozen of the best orthopedic and neurosurgeons in Boston because my case remains open. An attempt to settle proved fruitless.

I should not have to compromise my care because I happen to be on compensation. The system is incredibly slow; it will take nearly a year and a half before I have my hearing; and the judge can take months to render a decision. If the judge does not find in my favor, the process continues. All the while, my physical condition deteriorates. 

The money that has been wasted fighting me could have paid for the surgery and medical care I need and I could be back on the job again. I have had to endure numerous insurance-mandated medical exams performed by doctors who are paid to lie, I have been sent for an “impartial” exam, the “exam” part of which lasted less than three minutes. I have been followed by private investigators that have seen me do nothing of note. While this is an issue for any injured worker, it is especially poignant for the injured nurse. After all, we invest all we have in our patients—continually butting up against the system to advocate for their needs, yet when it is our turn, all we hear is silence. 

Instead of my days being filled with challenge and purpose, they are filled with pain and despair. I have miserable lower back pain, sciatic pain, nerve pain in my feet and a slowly deteriorating neurological status. I cannot sit, stand, lie down or walk without pain. I require narcotic pain medications on a daily basis.  

Long an advocate for patient issues, I now try to advocate for injured workers. However, here in Massachusetts, injured workers are not organized and the battle is uphill. One bright spot however is a connection I made with an injured worker from California while doing some internet research. She produced a documentary about an injured worker, entitled “Almost Broken.” The documentary is outlined and discussed at www.mystatefundstory.com.

This documentary needs and deserves to be shown around the country so that there can be a sea change in the way injured workers are treated. Almost Broken will be aired at the MNA’s Canton office in the next couple of weeks, but you can help spread the word now. Call your local cable station and request that they air Almost Broken—because getting this documentary shown throughout the state of Massachusetts will help to bring about a much overdo change in the worker’s compensation system.

FPO