'Serious flaws' with WorkSafeBC's treatment of chronic pain sufferers: Report

Consequences include financial hardship, suicidal thoughts

A report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in British Columbia expresses concern about how WorkSafeBC deals with injured workers who develop chronic pain.

“I’ve been working in this area for 25 years and I’m extremely concerned about what I’m seeing,” said Cecil Hershler, a chronic pain specialist and the report’s lead author. “Financial hardship, severe physical pain and deep emotional suffering, including suicidal thoughts — these are some of the consequences for my patients who are dealing with the WCB system.”

Hershler and co-author Kia Salomons interviewed nine patients with chronic pain resulting from workplace injuries. The authors identified seven key issues facing chronic pain sufferers, including:

•long periods of time with on-and-off payment of compensation or no compensation at all

•a lack of income and depletion of financial resources

•disbelief on the part of employers and WorkSafeBC

•undue pressure to engage in job searches, even when their injuries should have ruled this out.

Most disturbing to Hershler was the extent to which the interviewees had contemplated suicide — four out of the nine — and attempted it — two of the nine. These findings are reflective of WorkSafeBC’s own statistics on suicide — an internal document on the agency’s website shows an increase in “threats of suicide,” from a handful in the early 2000s to almost 200 in 2010, said the CCPA.

Hershler recommended several ideas for improving patient care and reducing physical and emotional suffering that include:

•ensuring economic stability during the claims process (including appeals, which can take many years to resolve)

•not sending patients with serious chronic pain back to work too soon

•ending inappropriate work searches.

One of Hershler’s biggest concerns is claimants must rely on doctors and rehab specialists employed or contracted by WorkSafeBC for their treatment.

"The priority should be helping the worker recover as much as they possibly can, and this requires collaboration with the patient's own family doctor and pain specialists. The patient should be able to rely primarily on their own providers, whose familiarity and expertise are essential to their recovery, and those providers should play more of a role in WCB’s decision-making process about the patient’s claim and entitlement to benefits, including pensions.”

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