By TIM TALLEY
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Dorman criticized Republican Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday for changes to Oklahoma’s workers compensation system that Dorman said are blocking injured workers’ access to medical care.
Dorman, a term-limited state representative from Rush Springs, said the changes supported by Fallin, who is seeking a second term in November’s general election, have effectively gutted the state’s Workers Compensation Court and left injured workers without care for on-the-job injuries.
“Fallin has demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for workers,” Dorman said. “I will make the commission an institution that quickly processes claims and is not skewed against employees.”
In a statement, Fallin said she supported the changes because the previous system “was slow, inefficient and riddled with fraud.”
“I want injured workers to have a system that processes their claims quickly, gets them fair compensation and healthy and back to work,” she said. “Moving to an administrative system of mediation run by administrative law judges as opposed to a litigious system dominated by lawsuits and trial attorneys is better for injured workers and employers.”
Fallin also said the administrative system will eliminate legal and bureaucratic red tape that was bogging down the previous system.
“Recent workers’ compensation reforms are already saving Oklahoma businesses more than $260 million annually, money that can now go to creating private sector jobs,” she said.
The Legislature last year approved a bill to transition Oklahoma’s workplace injury benefits processes from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system. Supporters of the Republican-backed plan said the new system would reduce costs while allowing employers and employees to amicably resolve disputes and get back to work more quickly.
Earlier this month, hearings for thousands of injured workers were delayed as the transition is made. Dorman said funding levels did not permit the duties of the court to be carried out with both systems operating at the same time. Hearings set in Tulsa and Oklahoma City between July 21 and Aug. 1 were postponed and will be rescheduled.
In addition, the Workers Compensation Commission last week laid off 16 court employees.
“Those are individuals who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to working within the system, people with experience,” Dorman said.
Speaking to a small group of reporters outside the building that houses the Workers Compensation Court, Dorman said he wants the court to resume its duties.
“There are injured workers in Oklahoma,” he said. “These are workers who cannot receive medical treatment until the court resumes their duties. That is unacceptable to allow injured Oklahoma workers to linger that long without medical treatment in some form or fashion due to the injuries they sustained on the job.”
Dorman also called on Fallin’s husband, attorney Wade Christensen, to recuse himself from any future workers’ compensation cases due to what Dorman said is a conflict of interest.
Christensen announced in January he would not work as a lawyer before the new workers’ compensation commission to avoid any appearance of impropriety. But he said he would continue to represent several hundred clients whose cases are pending with the Workers Compensation Court.