Compensation conundrum

Injured in 2005, woman says she faces workers’ comp challenges

Deana Stokes Sullivan dss@thetelegram.com
Published on December 5, 2011
Cindy Peddle (right) speaks to a Telegram reporter about her problems with workers’ compensation. At left is Trish Dodd of the Injured Workers Association. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Cindy Peddle of Conception Bay South says she can sympathize with injured workers who’ve recently spoken out about workers’ compensation policies and regulations that prevent them from being able to access massage therapy.

She’s an injured worker, too, who says she’s encountered multiple problems in the system since her initial injury in March 2005.

Peddle was self-employed, working in the wholesale food industry  at the time.

She  branched out on her own in 1994 and her daily work included lifting 50-pound bags of potatoes, peeling, chopping and delivering them to restaurants and grocery stores.

Marriage disqualifies woman for some services … Continued from page A1

Peddle said her problems began when her right wrist began swelling so much, she couldn’t use it.

Her condition progressed to carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, tendinitis, torn ligaments in her upper body, neck problems and a bulged disc in her neck.

She also developed temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which causes pain on one side of her face, down her neck and throat.

Peddle had to stop working and went on workers’ compensation.

She said the Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) sent her to a facility for what’s called clinic-based occupational rehabilitation (CBOR), where she had to do a circuit of strengthening exercises.

She said she questioned why part of her rehabilitation involved using an exercise bike before and after other exercises when her injuries were in her wrists and upper body, but Peddle said she was told it was part of the circuit program.

She said the bike wasn’t modern exercise equipment, so she had to stretch her arms just to hold the handlebars, but she did this for a number of weeks.

“I got on the exercise bike this day and something let go in my lower back,” Peddle said. “I almost fell to the floor.”

She said this injury occurred around November 2005. She immediately went to a doctor, who told her to discontinue the rehabilitation until she could be mobile.

Peddle said this prompted a call from a WHSCC case manager, who said her benefits would be cut off if she didn’t continue the rehabilitation.

She said she was also told she should have filled out a form to report her back injury, but it was a “non-compensable injury” under workers’ compensation, despite the WHSCC sending her for the rehabilitation.

“I said to my case manager, I can’t even stand. I’m here and I just can’t move and she said, ‘Well, until you’re ready to go back to CBOR, your income is cut,’” Peddle said, “So, they just cut me completely.”

Peddle said she was forced to go back into the rehabilitation program for income purposes, even though she couldn’t do much exercise and she made sure she didn’t do anything to injure herself further.

Around that time, someone told her about the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers Association and Peddle said Trish Dodd of the association began fighting for her. “She’s my angel,” she said.

Peddle is now on long-term disability, but said the challenges with the WHSCC continue, despite some positive developments in her life since her injury.

Peddle went through a divorce, but is now remarried. She said she feels the WHSCC is now penalizing her for that.

She’s received approval from the commission to be treated by a chiropractor, but Peddle said it wouldn’t approve coverage for a chiropractor and physiotherapist at the same time.

And, Peddle said, even if WHSCC approves massage therapy for her, there are no therapists who will accept its coverage limit of only $25 per half hour when their rates are at least $45 per half hour.

WHSCC regulations also prohibit injured workers from paying the difference. The commission says this is to protect its clients from having to pay above its set coverage rates.

Peddle said she’s now receiving physiotherapy and massage therapy once a week, but it’s her husband’s insurance policy that’s covering it, even though she’s the injured worker.

Previously, when she was a single parent, Peddle said she was approved by WHSCC for some hours of housekeeping to have someone regularly do some of the cleaning in her home that she’s not able to do.

But since she got married, Peddle said she’s been told she now doesn’t qualify for that assistance.  She said WHSCC hasn’t done a second home assessment to determine how much work she can do, even though her doctor has requested housekeeping assistance.

“They just figure because I have a husband now, he can do it,” she said.

Peddle said WHSCC won’t take into consideration she now has a blended family with three children, where she had two children in her care previously and, because her husband works outside the province, he’s only home for five days out of 21.

She said the WHSCC also approved the installation of rails in the bathroom in her previous home to prevent her from falling. But, when she inquired about having rails installed in the home she moved into in Conception Bay South after her marriage, Peddle said, she was told these items are likely only a one-time approval.

She said she has to take medication to sleep and at night, puts braces on both hands and wrists and uses a heating pad on her back.  During the day, she also has to take pills to relieve the pain.

Dodd said when a worker is injured and on short-term disability, WHSCC focuses on programs to try to get that person back to work, but it seems if a worker goes on long-term disability, the normal response is to say no, putting the onus on the worker to bring forward information and request a review. A lot of people don’t appeal these decisions and they just walk away, she said.

Most injured workers are looking for forms of treatment to relieve some of their pain so they can cut back on medications, Dodd said.

Describing what’s happening to injured workers as a “war going on,” Dodd said, “people are living to die” and some are suffering a fate worse than death.

She said some injured workers have become so stressed they’ve committed suicide and the families haven’t even notified the commission.

About every five years, there’s a review of the workers’ compensation system in the province.

Dodd said another one is due soon, but the same issues arise time after time.

It’s WHSCC policy not to discuss individual cases. However, CEO Leslie Galway told The Telegram last week she’s aware of concerns injured workers have about the changes to the regulations with respect to massage therapy, and would welcome any peer-reviewed research from the massage therapists’ association on its benefits.

She also said injured workers’ requests for various therapies can be reassessed where there are extenuating circumstances.

dss@thetelegram.com