Shirley Ryan held a quiet protest outside the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission in St. John’s early Wednesday morning, long before the commission opened its doors to the public at 8:30 am.
Ryan sustained a workplace injury Dec. 24, 2004 which eventually resulted in the amputation of the bottom part of her leg.
On Wednesday morning, she sat in her wheelchair holding poster-size placards.
She’d written “Sense vs Cents” in large letters on one poster to indicate the trouble she’s having with workers’ compensation.
“I came down because I can’t get no satisfaction from WHSCC,” she said.
“They are setting me further back as each year goes by, concerning my health,” Ryan said after coming out of the building, having agreed to go inside and meet with commission employees.
Nothing was accomplished from the meeting, she said.
Ryan was recently diagnosed with lower back problems including bulging discs.
She believes these problems were brought on because workers’ compensation wouldn’t pay for some therapy or a rental or loaner electronic wheelchair to help protect her upper body.
At the same time she was diagnosed with back problems, she said, workers’ compensation cut her homecare from 43 hours a week to 11 hours a week.
“Now I need it more than ever,” she said.
Ryan said she was supposed to have a meeting with workers’ compensation to discuss her concerns on Tuesday. She said she was initially told the commission would pay for her taxi to and from the meeting.
However, she said, she was later told workers’ compensation would not foot the cab fares. The meeting did not take place, she said.
In addition to the cut to her homecare hours, Ryan said the commission has also taken her lifeline — a medical alert response device for people who may need immediate medical attention.
That happened on Tuesday, she said, the same day she inquired about her taxi fares. Ryan said she won’t be quiet until she gets the help she needs and is entitled to.
“I’m not going to be another one of those statistics where you fall through the cracks in the system … and I’m not doing this just for myself. I want to make sure that other people don’t go through the torture and the hell that I’m after having to face.”
While she cannot speak about individual cases, the commission’s CEO Leslie Galway did confirm that she spoke with Ryan in person Wednesday morning.
“It’s an honour to speak with any of the workers who use our services and today I had an opportunity to talk one of them and I’m very happy to have had that experience,” she said later in the day.
Galway said it’s not unusual for injured workers to come to the commission’s offices stressed and unhappy about the decisions that have been made on their claim.
There is a complaints process for these workers to follow, she said.
The process involves discussions between the worker and a case management team, she said. “It all takes place … within the policies, practices and procedures associated with the entitlement of our client, particularly the injured worker,” Galway said.
One of the confusing issues that an injured worker often faces, Galway said, is in dealing with the transfer from the original injury to recovery.
“At various points along that continuum, until you are ready to return to work, there are changes in your medical needs and what’s medically suitable to help you with those needs,” she said.
Galway said as the worker recovers from the injuries some medical supports may be eliminated. In other cases, she said, when recovery isn’t going as well as anticipated, supports may be added.
These decisions are made after a review of information provided by the worker’s medical team, she said.
When asked about injured workers who turn to the media when they feel they cannot get the help they’re entitled to, Galway said client surveys indicate that “(workers) have become a little more satisfied as each year passes with the services that are being provided.”
“The most important piece that holds this whole process together is a genuine interest in communication and that’s both the listening and the talking,” she said.
Trish Dodd of the Injured Workers’ Association said there are many people like Ryan, who are suffering because they are not being treated fairly by the commission.
“If there’s a win for a worker, (workers’ compensation) will do something to block it … that’s why the word discretion is used in their policies,” Dodd said.