Wednesday 23rd April 2008
In November 2004, the scales tipped against a South Coast nurse and her family.
They weren’t the scales of justice but the standard set Lyn Watcham used to weigh newborns as a Child and Family Health RN. After five years of lifting scales in and out of her car, Lyn’s left shoulder said ‘enough’.
It plunged her into a three-year compensation battle with the Greater Southern Area Health Service and countless faceless officials.
Months, then years, of frustration brought out levels of determination she didn’t know she possessed.
Lyn meticulously recorded interviews and run-ins and, eventually, set out her case in a letter to then Health Minister, John Hatzistergos, drawing a Ministerial rebuke for her employer.
Lyn had first returned to her Eurobodalla-based job after six months convalescence and a shoulder operation in Sydney, restricted to six hours a week on non-clinical duties.
Married, with a daughter at home and helping to pay the living costs of another in Sydney, Lyn and her train-driver husband were feeling the pinch.
‘I was fighting to get back to work. Yes, it was partly financial but, also, it was about me as a person,’ she said.
All she ran into though were roadblocks.
The Health Service put off her planned May 2005 return because it didn’t have the chair it wanted for the allocated work, nor the headset she needed to use the phone.
The NSWNA helped sort out those problems.
By December, Lyn and her shoulder had worked their way back into a 36-hour fortnight.
She was doing clinics but wanted to return to the rest of her work and, by April 06, had learned to drive a car with a spinner knob on the steering wheel. She got the licence needed to operate a modified vehicle.
Trouble was, the Health Service wouldn’t attach the equipment to any of its cars.
On the contrary, her rehabilitation officer informed her, it was considering removing her to ‘suitable duties’.
‘That’s a nice way of saying, we’re sacking you,’ Lyn said.
‘At a meeting, after an all-day clinic, they sat me down and, basically said don’t come back. I was devastated.
‘I had fought so hard to keep my job and had done every single thing they asked of me. I was asking myself, how am I going to live? I had a mortgage and bills like everyone else.’
But she got angry when she finally extracted reasons for her effective dismissal from the HR department. She contested every one of its claims, not least that other people had had to spend 20 minutes a day setting up her clinics.
The NSWNA got the information Lyn needed to fight back.
Following Hartzistergos’ ‘please explain’, the Health Service agreed to a three-month trial. It would put a spinner knob on one of its vehicles and supply a Dictaphone so she could file verbal reports.
In May 2007, the parties agreed she could work three days a week, and WorkCover would make up her wage to nearly the full amount.
It was a relief but Lyn has been scarred by the experience.
‘Nobody warns you that your pay is going to be cut by two-thirds, or that they can sack you after six months.
‘I found it awful. There is a stigma attached to Workers’ Compensation. Everyone looks at you as though you are a malingerer, trying to get money out of the system.
‘There are so many third parties involved in your treatment it is overwhelming, but you have to go through the system even though you don’t know who has access to your files or who is making decisions about your life.
‘I was never sure, if people I had to see were working for me or the insurance company.’