This month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) went live with new software meant to streamline the workers’ compensation court system. According to an exclusive anonymous source for the Independent Gazette, this software has had the reverse effect, becoming the primary bottleneck of the courts.
According to the L&I website, the software, Workers’ Compensation Automation and Integration System (WCAIS), is a web-based application that “integrate(s) the business processes” of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) and the Workers’ Compensation Office of Adjudication (WCOA), and “provide[s] the public with the ability to interact with all three program areas electronically.” WCAIS is a result of a $45.1 million contract with Deloitte Consulting, LLP, established in 2010 to provide a paperless system to the courts.
All court hearings for the first week of September were halted to provide department employees training on the new system. This reporter could not ascertain how many employees actually received the training or to which extent it was given.
Department employees are experiencing severe processing deficiencies, claims our source. Case judgements are not effectively processing through the system, failing to officially notify both the insurers and claimants. In one instance, a court judge indicated that the old system would process well over 100 judgements in a single month, while the new system only processed a single judgement for the entire month of September.
WCAIS requires that all documents related to a court case be electronically scanned. In the Philadelphia regional office alone, the entire staff carry the burden of digitally scanning thousands of documents per month for use as exhibits, yet they have only one scanner to handle the workload. In addition, when documents are scanned into the system, quite often the electronic versions “go missing,” further restricting the entire process.
According to our informant, “All judges despise WCAIS, and attorneys and clerical staff using the system are under immense amounts of pressure in coping with the shortcomings.”
By their very nature workers’ compensation cases can take months to conclude, and WCAIS is extending that timeline even further. There is no doubt that this is costing taxpayers plenty, and causing serious issues with claimants who may have won their case. For each month the case judgement is not processed, the claimant risks severe financial hardship, such as the possibility of home foreclosure and unpaid medical expenses, with many claimants not receiving income during litigation. Judges can attempt to bypass the new system by issuing a “bench order,” but the insurers are not legally obligated to adhere to the judgement until an official notice of judgement is received.
Department of Labor and Industry officials could not be reached for comment, but the Gazette will provide more details as they are obtained.