Injured workers hit face-on with doctor and housing issues

Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Articles, Stories

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Medical treatment and housing — two issues that workers, after an injury, find themselves grappling with. They shouldn’t have to, and it is troubling to any outside observer that soon after an injury, perhaps still in pain with mobility difficulties, anyone should find himself with these additional complications.

For a little insight as to how and why these become issues for injured workers, we speak to three of them who came to the “bus card desk” at Transient Workers Count Too’s meal programme. The “bus card desk” is where we exchange their exhausted TransitLink farecards for topped up cards, to enable injured workers to travel to their hospital appointments.

Selvarasu Palanisamy (above), an employee of a piling company, had three toes on his left foot crushed in an accident on 7 May 2015. He was rushed to Mt Elizabeth Hospital at Novena, but never had a chance to speak to the doctor. “Manager talk to doctor,” he tells us. “Doctor never ask me anything.”

He expresses some worry as to what the manager described to the doctor as the cause of the accident. TWC2 has seen cases where the doctor is told that the injury occurred somewhere else other than a worksite, so that the company could avoid liability for work injury compensation. The doctor writes into his notes what is told, and these medical records can prejudice a worker’s future claim. Is Palanisamy worried about the same possibility?

We check Palanisamy’s case status, and find that the company has reported it as a work accident to the Ministry of Manpower. We reassure him that, in his case, there is unlikely to be any problem on that front.

It’s housing that gave him a problem. He used to stay in the company’s dormitory in Sembawang, but after his foot injury, it became difficult to stay on. Unlike many workers who tell us that their employers made it difficult to stay on — and there’ll be one such tale below — Palanisamy’s explanation for why he chose to move out revolved around practical difficulties.

“After accident, I cannot walk,” he says. In the day when all the other employers went off to work, “nobody help me.”

“Go toilet also cannot. My leg like this, how to go?”

Meals were apparently another problem, though he doesn’t have enough English to describe exactly what the problem was. It had something to do with the fact that workers had to cook their own food, but this could only be done in the common kitchen several floors below. Palanisamy alludes to his co-workers being uncooperative and not cooking for him. The details however, are vague.

Nonetheless, it is enough to glimpse a basic fact: workers’ dormitories are not meant for injured workers with temporary disabilities. When they can’t fend for themselves, there is little help available.

Fortunately, he has a cousin working in Singapore and he has since moved out to live with him in the Little India area. His foot is a little better now and with the aid of crutches he makes his way slowly to TWC2 for his meals.

balakrishnan_pandiyaraja_5315Balakrishnan Pandiyaraja’s right forearm and much of his hand is in a cast. The day after the accident on 10 August 2015, his hand was operated on. “Six screws inside,” he says, probably to hold the broken bones together. However, it later emerges in our conversation that the hospital that operated on him wasn’t the one that gave him the cast. After surgery, all he had was some kind of “small bandage”.

As in the Palanisamy’s case, Pandiyaraja too never got a chance to speak to his own doctor. “All talking is supervisor talking.” The conversation was in English, but Pandiyaraja says he couldn’t understand what was said. “I also very pain,” which must have been very distracting.

His chief beef was over the very short medical leave he was given. “Doctor only give two day MC,” he says, (though he was also given 40 days’ light duty). “I think company tell doctor not give me MC.”

TWC2 has noticed this pattern, where even for serious injuries, doctors at private hospitals do not give more than two days’ medical leave. The patients are on powerful painkillers after surgery, which can affect a person’s alertness, yet are sent back to work. The law stipulates that any accident that results in more than three days of medical leave must be reported to the work safety authorities. If a company wants to avoid a safety investigation, one easy way would be to persuade the doctor not to give more than two days’ MC.

The Ministries of Health and Manpower sent a circular a few years back warning doctors not to be influenced by employers when it comes to patient care, but TWC2 still sees the problem continuing.

Once more, we check his case status, and in his case too we are able to reassure him that his employer has reported this as a worksite accident to the Ministry of Manpower.

Pandiyaraja’s initial treatment was at Mt Alvernia Hospital. A month after his injury, he went to National University Hospital on his own where the “small bandage” from Mt Alvernia was removed and his entire arm put into a full cast instead. He points to that as proof that NUH offers a far better standard of care. Moreover, he stresses: “NUH give me four days’ MC.”

There’s a bit of a back story to this decision to seek treatment at NUH. It appears to be at the suggestion of the “lawyer” — actually a legal assistant — he consulted, but it would be a digression to get into that. The legal assistant also suggested to him that he should move out of the company quarters at Boon Lay. The reason for such advice is not clear.

hassan_jahid_5325aBy contrast, Hassan Jahid (left) provides a very lucid and pressing reason for quitting his dorm after his accident. His employer demanded that he surrender his Work Permit. This created a serious difficulty since work permits are scanned by his dormitory for entry and exit. “If I go out, if no work permit, I cannot go back. So when very pain, how can I go see doctor?”

Without his Work Permit, he would be effectively imprisoned in the dorm. He was also afraid that he would be forcibly repatriated since having one’s Work Permit demanded back by the boss is usually a sign that it would be cancelled. However, a quick check during the interview itself found that his Work Permit (though now held by the boss and not the worker — which is illegal) is still valid; it has not been cancelled. Notwithstanding that, Hassan moved out. But to rent a bunk in Little India is going to cost him $250 a month. “I don’t know money how.”

As for the medical treatment he received, he too, like all the rest, was unhappy with the first doctor. Taken to Gleneagles Hospital after the incident on 15 August 2015, “they only give medicine and x-ray. No MC. My back so pain, how to work next day?”

His back and forehead were hurt in the accident. It could have been worse. At least his safety belt prevented him falling all the way to the ground. But while tethered, he was swinging wildly and slammed into “ship door”.

That same night, the pain got worse despite Gleneagles’ prescription. He took a taxi and made his way to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). He’s had three appointments since (and two more at a polyclinic), but now money is a problem (in addition to rent). At his third TTSH appointment, the hospital told him that his employer had not paid up; Hassan is now concerned whether he’ll be allowed to see the doctor the next time he goes there.

Three workers. Three examples of how after an accident, the workers don’t only have to worry about getting well. All of a sudden, they are faced with these additional issues: inadequate standard of medical care, housing and money. Where can they get help? Many turn to lawyers… but that often creates another set of problems!

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our
means.

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