Nova Scotia

AG says workers' compensation board taking too long to handle files

The province's auditor general says decisions on worker claims by the Workers' Compensation Board often take too long and include inappropriate release of private information despite adhering to policy.

Audit also finds some workers' personal medical information inappropriately released

Nova Scotia Auditor General Michael Pickup's report found the Workers' Compensation Board is taking too long to handle some files and isn't doing enough to protect workers' personal information. (Robert Short/CBC)

The province's auditor general says decisions on worker claims by the Workers' Compensation Board often take too long and include inappropriate release of private information despite adhering to policy.

Michael Pickup's office released its second of a two-part look at the board on Tuesday.

The work examined files from Jan 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2017. Issues with timelines were a recurring theme in the report.

Several appeals tested by Pickup's office were not processed within the 90-day target.

In fact, for the 20 files tested, it took an average of 50 days just to assign them. In 20 claims that were awarded permanent impairment benefits, Pickup's team found nine weren't issued in a timely manner, with assessments delayed anywhere from two months to a year.

"Permanent impairment benefits cannot be calculated until the assessment is completed," he writes.

"Therefore, not conducting assessments in a timely manner results in unnecessary delays to the injured worker receiving compensation they are entitled to."

Inappropriate release of information

Aside from the speed with which things are completed, Pickup also raised concerns about workers' personal medical information being inappropriately released to employers, something that happened in nine of 20 files tested.

The information included medications a worker was taking and information about current and past illnesses and injuries. In six of those nine files, sensitive information was redacted in some places, but not in all.

"This violates the protection of private medical information of workers in Nova Scotia," Pickup says in a video that accompanies the report.

"In my opinion, there is no excuse for this, as all workers should expect the privacy of their information to be respected by the workers' compensation board when they make a claim."

The Workers' Compensation Board in Nova Scotia has accepted all 12 of the recommendations in the auditor general's report. (Robert Short/CBC)

Pickup noted the complaints process lacks a formal structure, which affects its usefulness, and he found, in half the claims his office tested, workers didn't get information about how the dollar amounts of benefits were calculated.

"If an injured worker does not have these details, it is very difficult for them to know if they are being treated fairly and receiving what they are entitled to."

The report makes 12 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the board.

In responses included in the report, the board states that a new software system, which was first implemented in 2018, helps ensure workers are communicating with clients in a timely way and people are receiving more information.

It also helps monitor the progress of files. A staff person has been hired to help ease delays with appeals

'A very real human impact'

In a news release, Stuart MacLean, the Workers' Compensation Board CEO, said work would start on the recommendations right away.

"I understand and appreciate that the decisions we make, the time it takes us to make them and our protection of personal information all have a very real human impact," he said.

MacLean said a further upgrade to the new software system will go live next week, improving the 25-year-old claims and assessment system.

"Improving our processes and our systems will help us to provide better service," said MacLean. "But the technology is only a tool, and it alone will not address the changes needed in some of our processes."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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