Lawmakers consider changes in WSI rehabilitation servicesBISMARCK — North Dakota injured workers may get more say in their futures under Workforce Safety and Insurance’s vocational rehabilitation programs, a key legislator said Tuesday.
By: Janell Cole, N.D. Capitol Bureau
BISMARCK — North Dakota injured workers may get more say in their futures under Workforce Safety and Insurance’s vocational rehabilitation programs, a key legislator said Tuesday.
Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, is chairman of the Legislature’s Workers’ Compensation Review Committee and mentioned that as a possible law change.
“We need to find a way for the injured worker to help set the direction and have more ownership (of their retraining),” Keiser said, because it is a recurring theme in cases before his committee.
Keiser’s committee heard from an injured worker, Mark Allensworth of Bismarck, that when he began college computer classes on his own in an effort to improve his ability to get a job, WSI’s contract rehabilitation company disagreed and told him he should be doing something else. Then WSI cut off his rehabilitation benefits, he said. He appealed through an administrative hearing, lost, and couldn’t afford to take the case to court.
“I didn’t understand why, if I was going to school, they wanted me to follow their draft (plan),” he said.
Allensworth hurt his back loading and unloading products at the Coca-Cola plant in Bismarck in 1994 and has twice had back surgery. He will again have surgery next month. He is working part time at a Hardee’s restaurant in Mandan and collecting Social Security disability payments but he said he wants to be self-sufficient. Despite taking out loans to get a degree and be more employable, he has applied for 6,000 jobs and been rejected by all, he said.
Injured workers’ advocate Sebald Vetter of Bismarck said Allensworth lost his home because he could not find a good job.
WSI attorney Tim Wahlin said state law and the courts do not require WSI to find someone a job. And Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, said he objected to any suggestion that the state guarantee a job for anyone.
Keiser was displeased that Allensworth and maybe other workers haven’t received more help from a preferred workers’ program, in which WSI gives employers generous incentives to hire workers who need a different kind of job following injury. He was surprised when Wahlin told him that workers can be on such a program for three years with any one employer as well as three more years with any additional employers.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Keiser and a WSI official said WSI should keep better track of what happens to cases when WSI’s Office of Independent Review recommends changes in how WSI has decided a workers’ case.
Injured workers who disagree with how WSI has decided their cases can appeal the decision to the Office of Independent Review, which despite its name, is not independent of the agency.
In 20 percent of the cases, OIR recommends WSI change how the case was decided. WSI can reject the recommendation. OIR Director Cade Jorgenson said no one tracks how often WSI rejects the OIR recommendation. He said the recent Conolly report recommended that in cases where WSI rejects the OIR recommendation, the agency’s CEO should review the decisions.
Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.