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Study offers insight into lives of WorkSafeBC claimants with chronic pain

A report released this week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) takes an in-depth look at a sample of WorksafeBC (WCB) claimants with chronic pain and raises the alarm about serious flaws in how the B.C. workers’ compensation board deals with injured workers who develop chronic pain.


June 9, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff

“I’ve been working in this area for 25 years, and I’m extremely
concerned about what I’m seeing,” said Dr. Cecil Hershler, the report’s
lead author and a specialist who has worked with thousands of patients
with chronic pain, many of whom have had workplace injuries.

“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.”

After seeing a troubling
pattern among patients dealing with WCB, Hershler decided to take an
in-depth look at the impacts on a sample of these patients. He 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; lack
of income and depletion of financial resources; disbelief on the part of
employers and WCB; and undue pressure to engage in job search, even
when their injuries should have ruled this out.

According to the
report, four out of the nine patients Hershler interviewed for the study
had contemplated suicide, while two of the nine had attempted taking
their own lives.

These findings are reflective of WCB’s own
statistics on suicide, according to the CCPA. An internal document
available on the agency’s website shows a startling and steady increase
in  “threats of suicide,” from only a handful in the early 2000s to
almost 200 in 2010.

In his recommendations for change, Hershler
offers concrete ideas for improving patient care and reducing physical
and emotional suffering. These 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, and ending inappropriate work searches.

One of
Hershler’s biggest concerns is that claimants must rely on doctors and
rehab specialists employed or contracted by WCB 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,” Hershler said.


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