Tonight on my way home from work I passed by a local chiropractic office and noticed their signboard reads:
“The First Wealth is Health”
While the sign didn’t acknowledge the author, if I’m not mistaken it was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and is a phrase that has been widely discussed and debated since it was first penned.
Based upon my day to day experiences as an attorney representing injured workers in their workers’ compensation claims, I’m struck by how accurate the statement really is. I believe that our health is something we often take for granted, forgetting just how precious of a resource it is. Every single day I’m reminded of the profound loss people experience when their health fails them.
It isn’t uncommon within workers’ compensation for injured workers to be put in the position of accepting a monetary figure designed to compensate them for the loss of their health. More frequently than not, they are disappointed and frustrated with the monetary benefits they receive. I believe that’s because it’s nearly impossible to put a realistic monetary value on heath, because our health really is our first wealth.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my first Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce meeting. It was such a treat! We had an absolutely delicious home-made lunch by local community contributors. On top, I had the good fortune of meeting a number of other local business owners and learning about their businesses and upcoming events. At the luncheon, we engaged in fun (and festive) games and icebreakers, and everyone was so welcoming and interested in learning about my business.
I grew up in a small town. I almost forgot how good it feels to again be in a small town, surrounded by close, warm and welcoming people. Port Orchard is an amazing community. I strongly recommend everyone to come and have a taste of this community, even for a short visit. I am looking forward to future Chamber of Commerce luncheons and events and to supporting my fellow Port Orchard business owners.
If you follow my updates on Workers’ Compensation issues in Washington State, you know that over the past two months I’ve written several posts outlining some of the difficulties injured workers face when trying to obtain new attending physicians within the Medical Provider Network (MPN). To recap, I find it incredibly problematic that injured workers, especially those with older or more complex claims, have extreme difficulty finding MPN providers willing to become attending physicians.
This week my feelings regarding this issue have progressed from frustration to outrage. The reason for my outrage has to do with RCW 51.32.110 and WAC 296-14-410. Under these laws, injured workers who are deemed to be non-cooperative may have their claims suspended and benefits stopped. Non-cooperation is when an injured worker and/or their representative obstructs or delays the progress of the claim. RCW 51.32.110(2) specifically identifies behavior that is considered non-cooperative: (a) refusing to submit or obstructing medical examination, (b) persisting in unsanitary or injurious practices which tend to imperil or retard recovery, or (c) refusing to submit to medical or surgical treatment reasonably essential recovery or refusing or obstructing evaluation or examination for the purpose of vocational rehabilitation or not cooperating in reasonable vocational rehabilitation efforts.
Nowhere in the statue does it indicate an injured worker should be considered non-cooperative, have their claim suspended, and their benefits stopped because they cannot find a willing attending physician. Yet, in two separate cases involving injured workers I represent, this week the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has sent letters threatening to find the injured workers non-cooperative because they cannot find willing attending physicians.
This kind of punitive behavior on behalf of L&I is a travesty and an injustice to injured workers. The Department of Labor and Industries should be ashamed this kind of claims management practice exists. I will certainly be addressing the inappropriateness of this practice under the Industrial Insurance Act.
In workers’ compensation when injured workers hire an attorney, all claim related correspondence comes through the law office. This includes checks for time-loss compensation benefits, regardless of whether any fees are deducted from those checks. Until recently our office received all correspondence at our physical address in Port Orchard. The result was inconsistent delivery times. Some days mail would arrive by 10 am and others not until after 4 pm. More often than not, it was the later. Late mail delivery impacts our productivity because it gives us less time to review and respond to incoming correspondence. It also forces clients to wait, sometimes for hours, for mail containing their checks to arrive.
Our solution was to rent a post office box where our mail would be deposited by 11 am. With reliability and consistency of mail delivery, we would increase our productivity and provide better service to clients. We thought. After a tedious process of getting Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to acknowledge our address change, our hopes of reliable mail service were dashed. We opened an empty post office box that we expected to be full. After waiting in long holiday lines at the post office, we learned that the post office couldn’t locate the PO Box they assigned us. They returned our mail as undeliverable back to L&I. They assured us the situation would be rectified. But it was not.
We had to go back to the post office to speak with the post master general. We were getting call after call from L&I informing us that our mail was being returned as undeliverable. Imagine my frustration and disbelief when the postmaster himself could not find the PO Box they had assigned us. Because it was mislabeled on the inside.
I feel terrible for my clients that are awaiting checks in this holiday season. I wish my attempts to provide them with better services hadn’t turned out so poorly. More than anything, I hope for a very full PO Box this week.
Last Friday, my work week ended on a familiar note. Trying to reassure injured workers who can’t find attending physicians (APs). In my opinion, we have a real problem in Washington State finding willing APs. Particularly for older L&I claims or for injured workers with multiple claims.
The law allows injured workers to designate an AP of their choosing. This is important since an injured worker needs to be comfortable enough with their AP to place full trust in that provider and their medical advice. Having multiple providers decline the AP role is upsetting for injured workers. When the Department of Labor and Industries starts sending letters directing them to designate an AP, the situation only gets worse.
Attorneys should not meddle in the patient physician relationship, so I don’t have a list of doctors in my hip pocket ready and willing to do my bidding. However, when a workers’ compensation claim is in jeopardy, I think it is my responsibility to write letters, forward medical records, and even meet with doctors to help my clients obtain APs. If the matter ends up in litigation, certainly the question will be asked about whether I had any hand in my client establishing care with a particular physician. After conversations like the ones I had today, there are simply no alternative but to do what is best for my client.