Injured worker sleeps next to portable toilet as she waits for insurer to complete approved home modifications
Posted August 05, 2019 06:24:16
Caroline Harte’s living room is decorated with vintage books, perfume bottles, and family photographs.
But nearby, the harp she used to play lies untouched, her vast vintage clothing collection unworn.
Ms Harte, a mother of seven, is mostly confined to her bed after a bad fall while working at a correctional centre near Lithgow in central-west New South Wales five years ago.
She sleeps next to a portable toilet and shower while waiting for her insurer to complete modifications it has approved for her home.
The fall happened when her youngest child was a toddler.
“She says things like ‘when you used to be a mum’,” Ms Harte said.
“My older kids now, they find it very difficult to deal with. I’m the mum who lives in the front room. It’s like I’m adjacent to the family, to the household.
“The entire fabric of my life is in tatters. I never envisaged this, and no-one would choose this, absolutely no-one.”
Ms Harte said her injury left her with complex regional pain syndrome, which caused intense burning sensations in her limbs.
Modifications to her home such as a ramp and a motorised wheelchair to help her get around were approved by her insurer QBE last August, but she has been battling the company to complete the work.
In a statement, a spokesman for QBE said the company shared her concerns about the delayed work, and wanted to ensure it was finalised quickly.
Regional injured workers ‘out of sight, out of mind’
A report by the NSW Government’s independent workers compensation review body WIRO said compensation law was complex and sometimes ambiguous, leading to increased disputes and delays in approving insurance claims.
The Government has reviewed the system a number of times over the past decade.
Bathurst solicitor Cindy Swan, who represents workers across western NSW, said people in regional areas could be left behind in a complicated, city-based system.
“Given that [workers] are not in a city, say like Sydney, where they’ve got access to a number of links in the community to help them like a solicitor, specialists, support and family, those types of workers are a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
“I’ve even had insurance companies that say ‘where’s Bathurst? Is that just an hour’s drive from Sydney?’
“They’re not knowing they’re placing pressure on injured workers when they’re making medical appointments … given the travel requirements to attend a lot of their appointments.”
In Ms Harte’s case, medical records show a pain management specialist has urgently recommended the accessibility modifications be finalised so she can be independent and take part in rehabilitation, like hydrotherapy.
Ms Harte said she felt trapped.
“I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. I don’t want to be a burden on my friends, I don’t want to be a burden on my family, or on the system. I just want some mobility.
“Most of all I just want them to help me get off this roundabout.”
Calls for an overhaul
Greens MP David Shoebridge has visited injured workers in regional areas many times.
He said due to the nature of a lot of work in the country — like agriculture and mining — workers were more vulnerable to injury, and less likely to find a new job once they were injured.
Mr Shoebridge said there needed to be a greater focus on delivering fair benefits to injured workers, with the least disruption to their lives.
“Currently we have a system that is focussed on box-ticking and often harassing injured workers,” he said.
“Some would suggest that that model is designed to push people off benefits rather than return them to health and return them to work.”