Several injured workers told a legislative committee that the North Dakota workers’ compensation program routinely fails to respond to their questions and accused the agency of falsifying information in their claim files.
The allegations — disputed by the agency’s head — came during public comments at a hearing Wednesday, June 22, when the North Dakota Legislature’s Workers’ Compensation Review Committee met to listen to suggestions for reforming the system from workers whose claims no longer are pending.
One of those workers, Tammy Kivley of Fargo, who suffers from a disabling knee injury, mentioned in her testimony that she was frustrated by a lack of responsiveness by claims staff of Workforce Safety & Insurance, North Dakota’s workers’ compensation program.
“It’s like I was just ignored,” said Kivley, whose reform suggestions included a better program for retraining injured workers who can’t return to their former jobs.
That comment prompted similar complaints from two injured workers who were attending the meeting.
Troy Loberg, who lives near Chaffee and suffered a crushed shoulder while working on a rail car in the Oil Patch, said his claims adjuster was supposed to contact him monthly and failed to do so over two years.
He said he has repeatedly been required to submit to psychiatric examinations, with the last two agreeing that he cannot return to work. He said he also has been hounded by private investigators hired by WSI surveilling his activities.
“I still get harassed by your guys,” Loberg said, referring to WSI employees or contractors. “You falsify records.”
In responding to legislators’ questions, Loberg disputed statements by Tim Wahlin, who is WSI’s chief of injury services, that claims adjusters log all of workers’ calls and try to respond within 24 hours.
“They don’t return calls,” Loberg said. “That is false, false. They keep you in the dark. No compassion from these people.”
Another injured worker, Brad Bachmeier of Fargo, who has been unable to return to work as a mechanic, said his repeated calls went unanswered.
“No phone calls, no follow-ups for years,” Bachmeier said. “It saddens me to see how WSI treats people. They get doctors to say things that didn’t happen.”
Bachmeier also accused workers’ comp claims staff of falsifying documents in his file, including creating documents to make it appear that he had received a service he said he didn’t receive.
“If you’d like to see documentation, I’ve got eight books,” Bachmeier said, holding out his hand to suggest a tall stack.
Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, vice chairman of the committee, said WSI officials were unable to respond to the allegations raised by Loberg and Bachmeier. They could only comment if the workers’ had signed forms authorizing release of information about their claims, he said.
Bryan Klipfel, WSI’s director, told legislators that he disagreed with comments claiming his staff was not responsive, and said complaints must be viewed within the context of the more than 21,000 claims each year.
“I disagree with that statement,” he said. “We work very hard,” and said lawmakers would have to examine files and look at “both sides” to reach a fair conclusion.
In an interview, Klipfel said claims staff very closely follow procedures intended to ensure prompt follow-up to workers questions or complaints.
As for allegations that claims staff sometimes falsified documents, he said: “That’s a credibility, trust issue. Our claims adjusters do a very good job.”
Sen. George Sinner, D-Fargo, said he’s heard other workers complain of the non-responsiveness of workers’ compensation claims staff.