You suffer a work-related injury. You report the accident. You ask the boss for medical treatment. That’s what you are supposed to do. Now, you expect medical care. It should be “honest” medical care that puts a priority on you — the patient.
Where does your medical care start? Some factories have first aid stations in their facility. Many other businesses use a local “occupational” clinic as a starting point for injured workers. Can you expect “real and honest” medical care at the company clinic? Can you trust the company doctor? Some company nurses and physicians really try to help the injured. But, a few neglect their medical calling. These bad ones work against the injured. They are biased for the company paying them.
A WORK COMP SCANDAL AT TESLA
A recent investigative article about Tesla’s outside medical clinic paints a dark picture of occupational care gone wrong. It starts with a clinic near Tesla’s car factory. The clinic, Access Omnicare run by Dr. Basil Besh, wanted Tesla’s business. They wanted the business pretty badly. The doctor met with Tesla officials. What did the doctor promise Tesla? We may never know the exact words spoken in that meeting. But, when she learned he had secured Tesla’s business, the doctor’s wife excitedly texted — “Time to deliver.” Deliver they did!
From reading the article, it appears the office manager had a real heart, felt guilty for the injured workers coming through the clinic, and blew the whistle. According to the office manager, Dr. Besh did whatever he could to insure he continued serving as Tesla’s local factory clinic. That meant helping Tesla and hurting the workers. When it came to workers with potential work comp claims, Dr. Besh would say,
I’m not losing the contract over this — get this case closed.
Interviews with former clinic workers revealed how Tesla and the doctor coordinated behind the scenes to help the company at the expense of injured workers. The article detailed several specific cases where the clinic harmed injured workers by misrepresenting their condition or care. It’s a horrible story of fraud. If you want to learn how a biased and corrupted clinic can harm injured workers, you should read the full article. It is titled, How Tesla And Its Doctor Made Sure Injured Employees Didn’t Get Workers’ Comp.
In prior posts, I’ve discussed work comp fraud. While many people think of fraud in terms of a single worker falsely claiming injury or disability, such claims are small in number. When a worker suffers a significant injury, he or she is run through tests and doctors. False injury claims don’t make it far. In reality, injured workers frequently receive far less than truly owed. People may disagree on the extent of a disability, but worker fraud is small. The real fraud in our comp system relates to either (1) employee misclassification or (2) biased / bad medical care. In both situations, businesses are trying to cheat the system and workers usually pay the price. In my opinion, the denial of real and needed medical care is (by far) the biggest fraud in the system. It costs workers, their families and entire communities. The Tesla article exposes the underbelly of a system that leaves workers hurting.
HOW BAD OCCUPATIONAL CLINICS HARM INJURY CLAIMS
How do bad clinics harm injured workers? Company-oriented clinics have several tools at their disposal. They include the four methods of harming workers I’ve detailed below. I’ve seen each of them many times in my law practice. I’ve explained each by using examples:
KEEPING INJURIES OFF THE BOOKS. It’s a constant. I always have several ongoing cases where the worker suffered an accident but the employer ignored or refused to report it. In Alabama, employers have a specific form published by the Alabama Department of Labor for use in reporting injuries. So, there is no excuse. Yet, too many employers will ignore the accident. Initially, the worker may accept the employer’s avoidance of reporting the injury. Why? The worker may fear for his or her job. This also happens frequently at facilities with on-site first aid stations. Instead of recording an accident, the company nurse will simply say the employee reported an ache or ongoing issue as if it pre-existed or occurred at home.
IGNORING INJURIES AND COMPLAINTS. You suffer a fall at work. You break an arm, hurt your back and hit your head. The insurance company authorizes a doctor to treat your arm and back. But, the insurance company and its doctor completely ignore your head injury. I mention a head injury in my example because tramautic brain injuries (TBI) are frequently ignored by insurance companies. But, this happens with other injuries as well. Insurance companies frequently refuse to recognize important aspects of an injury. If you are a hurting worker, you should not allow the carrier to simply ignore real injuries.
MISCLASSIFYING CONDITIONS AND DISABILITIES. An employee suffers a back injury lifting a heavy object at work. He is a good employee who fully performed his job. Maybe he had a prior back injury years ago. But, he recovered and it did not bother him. Yet, the company doctor will misclassify his current condition. Instead of properly reporting a new back injury, the company clinic will report his problems as a recurrence of the long-ago back issue. This is very common and is wrong. If you are an injured worker facing this situation, take a look at some of my posts specifically on the topic of pre-existing conditions.
SENDING PEOPLE BACK TO WORK WITHOUT TREATMENT OR RESTRICTIONS. You are hurt. You need time and treatment to heal. But, the company does not want to pay medical costs nor does the company want to pay temporary benefits to you while healing. So, your employer (usually its insurance company) pressures the doctor to release you for work. You suffer the price. Sometimes, this delays or prevents your healing. In other situations, employers punish workers who return to work unable to perform their jobs.
I could provide you many examples of bad employers and biased company clinics ignoring real worker injuries. Maybe you are thinking it does not happen here. Yet, it does. Years ago, Birmingham even had an occupational doctor who would routinely provide “opinions” far outside his specialty for patients he had never even seen. That is but one example of several biased occupational clinics in Alabama. The cost of biased occupational care is tremendous. It’s a terrible cost for the workers and everyone around them.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we represent injured workers across northern Alabama. We hope our articles provide needed information to answer your questions. We are also available to discuss your issues. Consultations are always free and confidential.