Doctor claims wrongful dismissal by WSIB; Lawsuit alleges employer, board wanted MD to partake in ‘fraud’ on worker’s injuries

Jacques Gallant
The Toronto Star, Sept. 23, 2015

A Hamilton-area physician is suing the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and her former employer for $3.2 million, claiming she was fired when she wouldn’t deliver a medical opinion that suited the WSIB.

Dr. Brenda Steinnagel, 50, is alleging in her statement of claim that she was terminated last April after the WSIB repeatedly demanded that her employer, Vaughan-based Workplace Health and Cost Solutions (WHCS), change the medical opinion she wrote on a hospital worker who was claiming benefits after suffering head injuries while trying to restrain a patient.

Steinnagel had concluded in late 2014 that the worker’s emotional issues could be related to his workplace accident, according to the statement of claim. Within two weeks of delivering her opinion, she alleges the WSIB requested clarification.

After further review, which included speaking with the worker’s family doctor, Steinnagel said she reached the same result in her medical opinion, but “the WSIB continued to resist her conclusion,” according to the statement, filed in Toronto Superior Court in July.

“The defendants WSIB and WHCS tried to force Dr. Steinnagel to participate in a fraud upon the public,” the statement alleges.

“In a desperate effort to reduce claims paid out, WSIB and WHCS have been conspiring to deny legitimate claims in a shocking display of arrogance and corruption. They pressured Dr. Steinnagel over a period of months to reverse her medical opinion on a high-cost case. When she refused, she was fired.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court. WSIB and WHCS have not yet filed statements of defence, but both told the Star they deny any wrongdoing and will be moving to strike much of Steinnagel’s claim in court on Oct. 26.

“The claims she has made about improper conduct are without merit,” said WHCS lawyer Greg McGinnis, calling Steinnagel “an apparently disgruntled former employee.”

WSIB spokeswoman Christine Arnott told the Star that “there is no truth to Dr. Steinnagel’s allegations and we deny acting wrongfully in any way. The WSIB will vigorously defend the lawsuit.”

Steinnagel, a married mother of a 3-year-old daughter, began working at WHCS in September 2012 as an external medical consultant to the WSIB, according to her statement of claim. Before that, she had been doing much of the same work within the WSIB since 2003, where she says in her statement she received promotions for her “excellent work.”

During her time at WHCS, where she went to work after her maternity leave ended, the company had a contract with the WSIB to provide medical consultants to assess workers claiming benefits for workplace injuries.

Steinnagel says in her statement that she received a positive performance review while working at WHCS, and was even asked to do quality-assurance checks on other medical consultants at the company.

But she alleges things became tense in early 2015 when the WSIB continued to refuse her medical opinion on the hospital worker, who isn’t named in the statement of claim. She alleges that at one point, WHCS’s medical director authored a different opinion with her name on it, and that she was “coerced” into signing it, but she refused.

She alleges one superior questioned whether she “valued the WSIB contract,” according to the statement, while another asked a human resources representative to “put pressure” on Steinnagel to reverse her opinion.

“Throughout January and February 2015, WSIB and WHCS continued to try different tactics to get Dr. Steinnagel to change her opinion about the hospital worker,” the statement alleges.

“It was a relentless campaign to question every aspect of Dr. Steinnagel’s work and challenge her entire approach to the case.”

The statement alleges that WHCS ultimately provided a medical opinion to the WSIB from a different doctor that arrived at the opposite conclusion reached by Steinnagel, “thereby providing WSIB with the false and fraudulent opinion it needed to deny the hospital worker his benefits.”

Steinnagel further alleges that she was suddenly told she had to do more work on site, though she said her superiors knew she had a young daughter at home, as well as to work more closely with the medical director.

In an email apparently sent by WHCS president Yvonne Chan on April 2 – a copy of which was sent to the Star by Steinnagel’s lawyer – Steinnagel is informed that a WSIB official verbally confirmed that “WHCS would suffer the consequence of the contract being taken away if we do not remove you from our roster.”

The email further says: “As a result, WHCS has no choice but to abide by WSIB’s request and thus the termination of your employment with WHCS.”

The copy of Chan’s email includes an email apparently sent to her by Dr. Dybesh Regmi at the WSIB on March 26, saying the WSIB had expected Steinnagel would not be reviewing any more files.

“And again now we are here with another issue,” the email says. “Until this issue is resolved we may have to stop allowing WHCS to take on any more files.”

Speaking to the Star this week, Steinnagel said: “The right thing needs to be done. I think to be asked to take an opposing stance in the face of that being my medical opinion is a challenge, and I don’t think that does anyone any favours.”

Spiralling Down

Article published by OHS Canada (Canada’s Occupational Health & Safety Magazine) on June 25, 2015 quoting John McKinnon & Steve Mantis
Spiralling Down
for the full study CPHA 2014 v. 105, Sep/Oct 2014

New research suggests that seriously injured workers tend to have shorter lifespans and that those who are permanently impaired following workplace incidents in their younger years have the highest risk of dying early.

Worksafe BC – neither working nor safe for injured workers with chronic pain — study

Some injured workers suffering from chronic pain in B.C. have been so traumatized by the way WorkSafe BC (previously known as the Workers Compensation Board or WCB) treats them that they have attempted suicide.

It is bad enough to be injured at work and left with crippling chronic pain. But if that happens to you in B.C., you could also be subjected to long bureaucratic delays, disbelief from government staff and doctors, and disrupted income and psychological trauma on top of your initial injury, a study released this week suggests. Some of the injured workers profiled in the new policy brief from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (“Work injuries, chronic pain and the harmful effects of WorkSafeBC/WCB compensation denial”, by Dr. Cecil Hershler and Kia Salomons, MSc.) were so hurt by their post-injury experience with WorkSafe that four of nine considered suicide and two made suicide attempts, Dr. Hershler told me in a June 8 conversation.

Hershler, an expert on chronic pain with 30 years experience, told me that the way WorkSafe BC responds to injured workers suffering chronic pain had “a truly catastrophic impact” on their lives.

The stories the nine injured workers (all patients treated by Hershler) told the investigators that their post-injury experience with WorkSafe included off-and-on payment of compensation, or no compensation at all, over long periods of time; long delays between initial termination of payments and the completion of appeals; lack of income and depletion of financial resources; mental health problems (including suicide attempts) and other health issues aggravated by the claims experience; wrestling with disbelief on the part of employers and WCB; frequent change of claims managers; undue pressure to engage in job search, even when injuries should have ruled out such requirements, and being cut off from the WorkSafe BC payments they were entitled to. One patient in the study had been struggling to get the chronic pain recognized for two decades. (continued)

Offensive Cartoon in Ottawa Citizen Newspaper …

The following cartoon was printed in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.
Cartoon in OttawaCitizen NP
This is a response from Karl Crevar, which he sent to the newspaper and many others throughout Ontario and Canada:

Your cartoon shows an injured worker on a wheelchair not wanting to be healed because he is getting workers’ compensation.
Only the jerks would laugh. Do you realize how offensive this is?
Other media have covered the sad truth about injured workers, surely your paper is aware of the number of injured workers out there and the 250 fatalities that happen from work every year. To suggest that injured workers are “fakers” is outrageous and borders on slander. I would suggest you do some investigative journalism instead. Talk to the real injured workers and their families. Find out the truth about the pain, the poverty and the stigma. Satire is important but offending peoples’ human rights is not only insensitive, it is illegal.
Yours sincerely,

Karl Crevar

June 1st – Injured Workers Day in Ontario !

Help to stop the cuts to Workers’ Compensation and fight for justice for injured workers. Join a Rally in your community … check online for events happening in your community.
Bike ride

Here are some photos from the Queen’s Park rally organized by the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups (ONIWG), the OFL, and allies to demand justice for injured workers. Afterwards, the OFL and ONIWG co-hosted a compensation conference at the Toronto Steelworker Hall. Photos

Pictured here is Karl Crevar, the Past President of ONIWG, and current Treasurer for CIWA:
2015 Jun01 - Karl C Spkg

Work Transition Tips

Helping workers get the right information at the right time

Trying to make sense of the vast amount of information needed to live with chronic pain or a chronic work injury disability is overwhelming. People who play a role in helping persons with work injuries and chronic conditions sort out information and what it means to their daily and work life are people who counsel or advise a worker one-on-one, run support groups and health care professionals.

Most of these people do the best that they can to offer knowledge on health matters, coping with change, uncertainty,claims issues, and work issues. Unfortunately, most people who offer informational supports do not have any training in the theory or principles of knowledge transfer – how to make sure that people can use and understand the information they need. As a result, persons with chronic conditions and work loss often get information at different times, mixed messages about what they need to know, do not always know what information is useful or how to use the information to make the best decisions and choices. Thus, the information workers need comes at the wrong time making it difficult to complete documentation on time, adjust their health and daily routines, to get better and to plan for going back to work.

Training in how to share knowledge for support groups and health professionals is needed to develop better practices and
approaches to help workers use the information they need when they need it. Research suggests that persons with chronic conditions and work injuries:

  • Struggle to use information as they do not
    get information on time.
  • Become skeptical of the information they receive due to mixed messages and do not know what information is useful or correct.
  • Persistently try to find the information need they talk with others and search the internet.
  • Need to think about and plan for the present and the ‘what ifs’ such as the uncertainties of living with less income, and periods of good or ill health.

Research suggests that information needsto be accessible, simple, and persons whohave chronic conditions and work injuries must be given time to think on information so that they can use it. If you work with injured workers we encourage you to read, reflect, and use some of these steps to enhance what you currently do to help workers access the
information they need. Once you have tried some of these we encourage you to talk with others and pass on what works!

Step 1: Provide Access to Information
  • Ensure that information is available in different formats.
  • Ensure that information is shared in a way that meets each person’s learning needs
  • Be open and honest about the information.
  • Acknowledge that information is accurate to the best of your knowledge
  • Advocate for change when problems in the timing and accuracy of information are uncovered.
  • Establish a set time each week to discuss information.
  • Collaborate with others such as other support group leaders or health care professionals to ensure the worker receives timely and consistent information.
Step 2: Provide Support to Understand
  • Ensure that simplest terms that are used.
  • Avoid the use of culturally specific terms.
  • Use one-on-one interactions to share information that is new or unfamiliar.
  • Use multiple methods of sharing information in chunks when information is complex.
  • ncourage use of different types of information, i.e. pictures and written.
  • Help check the accuracy of information obtained from the internet.
  • Review ways that a worker can ask for information they need from others.
  • Provide opportunities to correct misinformation or misperceptions–ask a worker to tell you what they know.
  • Provide sources of accurate information.
Step 3: Provide Support for Using Information
  • Provide a safe place for workers to share information on an ongoing basis.
  • Encourage a worker to think about new information and what it means to them.
  • Encourage a worker to listen, talk, and share information with other injured workers and family.
  • Encourage a worker to consider if information is of use for any short term or long term needs.
  • Encourage a worker to consider ways they might help others with similar problems.
  • Encourage a worker to do things that are important to them during recovery.
  • Encourage a worker to integrate new information to build on what they know so that they can organize activities in their daily life to do the things they need and want to do and to manage their health conditions.