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Published May 17 2012

Forum editorial: Sunshine required at WSI

The Forum’s recent reports by Patrick Springer on the missteps at North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance suggest that reforms favored by the voters a few years ago have gone somewhat unheeded. WSI, the state’s workers’ compensation agency, went through what was supposed to be top-to-bottom soul-searching after it was revealed former administrators violated state law. Following that mini-scandal, the agency was scrutinized by an inattentive Legislature. When little of significance was done to clean up WSI, a measure calling for reforms aimed at making the agency more worker-friendly went to the ballot, and voters easily passed it.

(By the way, Springer’s reporting in the months prior to the ballot measure was a significant factor in convincing voters that change was needed.)

Jump ahead to 2012, and it appears not everyone in the agency got the message. In the past few months, a doctor who performs claimant medical reviews for WSI said he was pressured to alter his opinions. An employee of the agency complained to her supervisors that an electronic record from an injured worker’s claim file was deleted – it appears for the purpose of denying benefits.

That single case saw the light of day because the affected worker gave the OK to go public with it. There is no way of knowing how many other cases were mishandled, either purposely or accidentally. A compliant Legislature has, over the years, granted WSI specific employer and employee records exemptions to the state’s open records law.

Keep in mind, the recent revelations of WSI missteps came from within the agency, not only from disgruntled workers who have been denied benefits. WSI will claim the reported case was an aberration – that everything else is just fine. Maybe so. But there really is no way of knowing. And the agency’s historic record of truth-telling is not good.

The buck stops on the desk of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who appoints WSI’s director. The governor has asked for documentation about what’s going on at the agency, and that’s a good thing. He should demand that the report is an unvarnished accountability document, free of bureaucratic spin and excuses. Then the data and the governor’s response should be made public.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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