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.”