Nova Scotia

Workers' compensation board looks to reduce delays for clients

The CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia says the agency doesn’t want to contribute to clients’ wait times for information.

'We simply can’t be part of the delay,' says CEO Stuart MacLean

Stuart MacLean is CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia says the agency is trying not to contribute to clients' wait times for information.

Stuart MacLean appeared before the legislature's standing committee on public accounts Wednesday. He and other witnesses were there to discuss previous auditor general reports that called attention to, among other things, delays in getting information to clients.

It was noted during the meeting that while there is a standard of two days to get a decision to a client after it's been made, the practice is for it to take up to 30 days.

MacLean said the two-day policy is "almost impossible to achieve, however, we know we need to do better."

"We know that timeliness of payment in 14 days is an important measure for us and we look to that, but we do recognize that we can do much better in terms of the way we document and the way we communicate," he told the committee.

Recent changes in process

Officials in the last few months have tried to improve communication through the life of a claim, which means having caseworkers in contact with workers, employers and health providers sooner so everyone understands the work required and expectations for completion.

Shelley Rowan, vice-president of prevention and service delivery, said they've also tried to make decisions more straightforward and with less legal and legislative jargon.

"People had a hard time understanding them and so we've put a lot of effort into writing decisions that are less complex and easier to understand," she told the committee.

The tradeoff has been that it takes longer to write such decisions, she said. They're attempting to bring down those times, including using new software that should create administrative efficiencies, and considering other ways to communicate decisions.

Opposition voices concerns

MacLean said he expects the issue of the two-day policy would be discussed at the next board meeting. While it's important people get decisions that are well-researched and produced, they also should be able to count on how long it will take, he said.

"We simply can't be part of the delay," he said.

Tory MLA Tim Halman said a major source of frustration in cases he hears about are delays for clients, particularly when the policy says one thing but the practice is another.

"If there's one thing that I think really upsets Nova Scotians, it's when they don't get information in a timely manner," he said. "This is an area that workers' compensation has to improve."

Hiring challenges

The committee heard that one challenge the agency has been facing is staff vacancies. Job offers were recently extended for three openings and interviews are happening for five others.

New Democrat MLA Susan LeBlanc said staffing levels are a concern for her, although she took solace in news from MacLean that independent workplace surveys show 70 per cent or better satisfaction rates.

MacLean said the vacancies coincided with recent legislation that brought presumptive coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders. He said additional staff to help with those new claims should mitigate increased workloads.

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