Stuck in workers’ compensation, visa nightmare: Assault at work leaves international student in a wheelchair

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For Francy Paola Molina, a young Colombian international student living in Australia, the joy of finding a job on her temporary visa lasted less than three months.
One night in October 2020, with only minutes left before the end of her shift at an assisted living facility, Ms Molina says she suffered a work-related injury, following a physical assault presumed.

“I remember a very strong blow. And then, even though I wasn’t fully conscious, my eyes weren’t open, I felt the kicks and punches,” Ms Molina recalls.

When the attack finally ended, I was unconscious on the ground…I opened my eyes and didn’t know where I was. I did not understand what had happened to me. Everything hurt me, my body hurt, my face hurt.

Francy Molina, international student injured at work.

After the alleged assault, she says all she could think about was that she had to pick up her daughter, Naia, who was waiting for her at ballet school.
But before getting into her car, Ms. Molina says she remembers filling out a form to report the incident and then went to pick up her daughter.

“When I arrived, I said to my girlfriend, ‘Sweetheart, something happened to me’. And I started crying. And I said, ‘I don’t know what happened to me. happened, I don’t know if I passed out, I don’t know, but I’m very tired. And then I couldn’t move. After that, I couldn’t move. is just…arrested,” she said.

A resident of the establishment would have revealed his participation in the incident

Ms Molina says after returning home she received a call from another member of staff asking how she was doing and offering to help. She was told that a resident of the facility approached staff to let them know he had a hand in the incident.
Naia sought medical attention for her mother.
“I called the ambulance. Her face was already swollen and starting to get covered in bumps and bruises,” Naia said.

Medical reports seen by SBS Spanish indicate that Ms Molina suffered a fracture to the right side of her face and bruises to her torso.

Faced with mounting medical bills, the Colombian contacted her employer and a claim was sent to WorkCover, Queensland’s workers’ compensation agency, seeking payment for treatment of her injuries and loss of life. income.
WorkCover Queensland then sent Ms Molina to different doctors to assess her case, accepted the request and began paying for the basic doctors, studies and treatment required.
In the weeks that followed, Ms. Molina was also diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neck distension, inflammation of the right arm and memory loss.
WorkCover Queensland, which is a self-funded agency under the Queensland Government, has also arranged for her to receive home support and psychological care, in a bid to get her back to work.

Ms Molina’s employer also claims to have paid her additional fees immediately after the incident to help cover her expenses.

The “invisible” wound

However, over time Ms Molina says she began to develop other conditions such as hearing loss, momentary blurred vision, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, communication problems, insomnia, dizziness as well as fainting and loss of consciousness.
Twenty-two months after the injury, WorkCover Queensland is still covering part of the costs of medical appointments and a weekly payment to help support Ms Molina and her daughter.

However, she complains that the amount she receives is not comparable to the income she earned before she was injured.

For months, Francy Molina had to use a wheelchair to get around.

But a new battle began for Ms Molina at the end of 2021 when, faced with the continued deterioration of her health and constant hospitalizations, she was told that she could possibly suffer from a functional neurological disorder (FND).

Now in a wheelchair, she says her movements are increasingly limited and her multiple ailments are getting worse day by day.
Ms. Molina says she is weakened and unable to return to work. She worries because she lacks money and becomes a physical burden for her child.

However, she says what weighs on her most is that WorkCover Queensland has not yet accepted her diagnosis of FND and so she has not started treatment for it.

I’m trying to move heaven and earth to get treatment. WorkCover was quite complicated. I know it’s complicated, but they made my life more difficult than the incident itself.

Francy Molina, Colombian student.

According to Dr. Joaquín Pereyra, surgeon and psychiatrist, Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists of Australia and New Zealand, FND is linked to symptoms of the nervous system that have no apparent cause or cannot be attributed to a neurological disease or other specific medical condition. . And, like most psychological or psychiatric conditions, there is no definitive cure.

“It depends on how you intervene, when you intervene, and what type of treatment you receive,” says Dr. Pereyra.

“There are actually good treatment options, which are mainly psychological or psychotherapeutic, and if there is adequate intervention, then the prognosis improves. If there is no type of care, the prognosis is less positive.
SBS Spanish contacted WorkCover Queensland to ask how long it would take to respond to cases such as Ms Molina’s, but they declined to provide details citing their privacy policies.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “WorkCover aims to make a decision on claims within 20 working days. However, in some cases it may take longer if we cannot obtain the correct information to make this decision.

After an accident at work, workers on temporary visas face more obstacles

Ms Molina’s case reached the office of Greens state MP Michael Berkman, who sent a letter to Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace arguing for the Colombian student.
In an interview with SBS Spanish, the parliamentarian said he felt WorkCover Queensland was not treating Ms Molina’s case fairly.
“That is why we have written to the Minister for Industrial Relations, who owns a majority stake in WorkCover. We have asked the Minister to intervene and ensure that WorkCover acknowledges the FND diagnosis Francy is receiving and funds the necessary treatment. “, Mr. Berkman said.

Mr. Berkman further noted that Ms. Molina’s case clearly illustrated how WorkCover was not really designed to support workers, but rather sought to minimize costs wherever possible. And that, he added, has become even more evident when it comes to workers on temporary visas.

By excluding migrant workers and international students, the cost of WorkCover to the government is minimized.

Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman.

“It has really drastic impacts preventing people from accessing free healthcare and disability support when they need it. These people like Francy need support as much as anyone else in Australia,” adds Berkman.

Mr Berkman says he believes Ms Molina’s case is an example of the need for urgent reform of the workers’ compensation system, to ensure support for all workers, regardless of status visa.

This reform must go through the federal government. But I am very interested in continuing to use this example to show the Minister that he needs to expand WorkCover and make it more widely available and ensure that everyone working in Queensland has the right support.

While adequate care is essential for anyone facing temporary or permanent incapacity as a result of an accident at work, for Australian temporary visa holders, having access to medical care and receiving income support can also make a difference. between being able to stay or having to leave the country. .

Uncertain future in Australia

And this is the case of Ms. Molina who, unable to work, cannot pay for her studies and fulfill the conditions of her visa. Therefore, his future in this country is uncertain.
For now, the most pressing matter for Ms Molina is for WorkCover Queensland to accept her application for FND and begin treatment, in the hope of halting the rapid progression of her ailments.
“I’m looking for help, but not financial help,” she says.
“My fight is to get the treatment I need now, because the folks at WorkCover have been on notice since April.
“We are past the middle of the year, I have been without treatment for about three months, without any help…every week for me is terrible, because every week I see what the NDF is doing to me.
“I don’t know if I will be the same person by the time they finally decide to approve the treatment.”

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