May 14, 2004

Perspective

Workers Don’t Want Comps for Their Labor, it’s more about Their Dignity

By Joe Ortiz

Juan is a dedicated husband with a wife and five kids, active in his church and spends much of his spare time in community affairs such as coaching young kids in the local soccer league. He has worked throughout his entire life at various occupations, ranging from grape picker, dishwasher, and gardener and most recently as an assembler in factory. He is usually the first one at work and oftentimes works an hour or so of overtime when called upon. He’s extremely polite and a team player. Juan never complains about any aches and pains he acquires throughout an arduous week of sweat and toil.

Unexpectedly, he hurts his back while helping a fellow employee loading a truck with merchandise. He doesn’t report it to his boss; he merely chalks it up as part of the aches and pains that go with being a hard worker. After several weeks of increasing pain, he goes to the emergency room during his lunch hour, where Juan is diagnosed with more severe injuries than he surmised. After X-rays and a several MRI’s, he’s told that his injuries will require surgery, at least one week in the hospital and possibly several months of physical therapy. Fortunately for Juan, his employer does have a medical insurance plan for his workers. Several days later, Juan leaves the hospital on crutches, experiencing much pain.

A friend of Juan’s tells him he needs an Injury Attorney. Juan feels uncomfortable about hiring an attorney, he merely wants to get well quickly and go back to work. He grudgingly goes to the attorney’s office for his first appointment. The office is filled to the brim with other simple, hard working folks, many walking on crutches or wrapped in some kind of bandages. They all seemed to be hanging their head down with a look of embarrassment on their faces. Juan realizes that he will be facing long-term physical pain during his recovery, but he didn’t know he was also going to experience a demoralizing and dehumanizing journey called the Worker’s Comp process.

Juan is quickly interviewed by one of the attorney’s legal assistants. Brief questions about his personal history are asked, followed by a myriad of documents he had provide, as well as tons and tons of forms to fill out. Juan now feels like his entire life is under a microscope. He is grilled incessantly about his past life, going as far back as 20 years. The attorney spends about five “revolving door” minutes with Juan, briefly explaining the Worker’s Comp process, and then tells him not to worry.

“You have the right to be compensated for your injuries. We’ll get you a lot of money.” Juan still feels uncomfortable. Mostly accepting what his parents had always told him, “No te rajes con los golpes de vida y trabajo.” In other words, “Take the pain, hard work is an honorable and noble way of life.”

The attorney then refers Juan to an orthopedist that is part of his “network.” Juan is also referred to a psychiatrist (also a member of the attorney’s “network”), who soon makes the determination that Juan has also been suffering work-related stress. A few days later, the orthopedist sends him to a physical therapist, which puts him on an exercise healing regimen. The therapist also orders various costly healing machines for Juan.

Juan soon receives mail instructions he now has to go to his employer’s insurance carrier’s doctors, located about eighty miles away. Juan can’t drive, so the insurance carrier’s attorney tells him they will send a driver to pick him up. Upon his arrival, they begin to ask Juan lots of questions, personal questions, demeaning and dehumanizing questions.

“Do you drink a lot? Have you ever beaten your wife? Did your parents love you? Have you ever had an affair? Have you ever been arrested?

“What,” says Juan to himself? “What does all of this have to do with my hurting my back at work?” And the patronizing questions go on and on and on.

Back home, Juan begins to notice strange people driving in and out of his neighborhood, pointing movie and digital cameras at him. One of his neighbors tells him that someone was asking questions about him. Juan ponders this experience. “What is this all about, and who’s paying for all of these expenses?”

In the state capitol, lawmakers, bureaucrats and various lobby groups are debating the issues of how the rising cost of Worker’s Comp is affecting employers and the tax payers. They come up with an interim plan to fix the process. The plan includes cutting back on Juan’s physical therapy and many of the other medical services he needs to rehabilitate his injured body. Part of the bureaucrat’s rationale for their recommendations is that many employees are probably faking their injuries and stiffing the public for all of these costs. They even accuse some members of the medical profession of embellishing their client’s prognosis. Most certainly, a few employees have been known to milk the system, but some one else is obviously pocketing the bigger bucks. Nevertheless, Juan’s recovery will be affected.

Juan is a proud man, especially in being a part of America’s workforce, those who keep the country moving in a positive direction. However, he now feels certain pangs of indignity from being a part of the Worker’s Comp process.

Juan is now seated at the dinner table with his family. One of his kids asks Juan, “Papi, are we going to get a lot of money from your injury?”

Juan sadly looks back at his child with a somewhat somber look on his face. He pauses for a few moments before answering, looks up toward the ceiling for a few more seconds, and then he answers with his head held high.

“No se mijita, it really doesn’t matter how things will turn out, because God will always provide all of our needs. I just want to get well and get back to work.”

Joe Ortiz is the first Mexican American to host an English-language talk show on commercial radio. He is the author of newly completed book, The End Times Passover. Web site: http://groups.msn.com/TheEndTimesPassover.

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