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The plight of Calgary's working homeless
One man's fight for compensation for an on-the-job injury
that has escalated into amputations offers insight into the struggles of some
of our poorest citizensLinda Slobodian
Published Sunday, April 02,
The Safe Streets Safe Cities Conference, Tuesday through
Thursday, will tackle chronic social problems afflicting urban society and
propose workable, compassionate ways to make cities safe. See
safestreetssafecities.com for details.
No one disputes that Glen Whiteley suffered frostbite on the
job. Not his former employer, not one of the army of doctors, surgeons and
specialists he has seen, not even the Workers' Compensation Board.
In fact, the WCB issued the homeless Calgarian -- claim No.
4873275 -- a $4,627.95 "one-time lump sum" settlement cheque to compensate for
his subsequently amputated big toes.
The problem is, he's lost a lot more than two toes.
"WCB has ignored the ongoing dismemberment of Glen,"
Whiteley, 49, says. "They said there was no commonality or continuation to my
injury. They hit you with 39-cent words and think you'll just agree."
He's been losing a fight to aggressive infections --
cellulitis, osteomyelitis and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus --
that, according to medical reports, set in after the frostbite and ravaged his
- On Feb. 25, 2005, (after twice delayed surgery dates) his
right big toe and a finger were amputated;
- On Dec. 6, 2005, his left big toe was removed;
- Both legs were amputated below the knees sometime between
Jan. 10 and Jan. 21 of this year;
- Only partial fingernails remain on his right hand;
- He's lost the tips of every finger on his left hand;
- He is scheduled for surgery to have the remainder of his
rotting left thumb cut off.
"The osteomyelitis has returned," says Whiteley. "There's a
great big pus unit on my thumb. Last week they said it was just a bruise, but I
knew. It's on my left thumb, which is a blessing. I need one good hand."
"The Workers' Compensation Board has accepted that your
accident happened at work," wrote WCB's Sandra Kammer in a March 7, 2006,
letter. "I have divided this permanent impairment award into three parts."
WCB determined each big toe was worth 2.5 per cent.
"Your total award has been determined at five per cent of
your whole body," wrote Kammer.
WCB tossed in a 1.25 per cent "enhancement factor" because
"the combined effect of two or more permanent impairments to parts of the body
with identical functions is involved."
"Not accepted," is what WCB documents say regarding other
lost parts of his body.
Kammer informed Whiteley of another "important" detail:
"Your cashing of this payment does not affect your right to request a review
now or in the future."
He's not cashing the cheque. To do so, he fears, would mean
he accepts the WCB decision and would have to embark on what can be a lengthy
appeal process he'd have to fight -- from a wheelchair.
He can't afford a lawyer, so he'd have to do it on his
Whiteley suffered frostbite Oct. 18, 2004, while working a
10-hour shift on the new super courthouse at 5th Street and 5th Avenue S.W. He
was employed as a concrete layer with CANA Construction Co. Ltd., earning
$16.10 an hour.
While his body -- oozing pus, parts of it rotting and
blackened -- was being ravaged by infection and septic arthritis, he was at
times cut off from WCB benefits.
He was also fired from CANA for not diligently showing up
for "modified" work duties.
Whiteley's file is thick with letters from physicians saying
his injury was preventing him from working, that permanent impairment was
anticipated and that he could not perform "modified or alternate" work.
CANA could not be reached for comment. The company CANA
hired to investigate Whiteley -- BCL Consulting Group Inc. -- provided no
"I can't really discuss this with you. We represent the
interests of employers with respect to WCB matters," says Denise Howitt of
In a July 8, 2005, letter to the WCB, Howitt wrote: "As
advised during our meeting, Mr. Whiteley was provided with a brand new pair of
rubber boots when he commenced employment with CANA. This would contradict his
claim that there were holes in his boots which led to his feet getting wet.
"Also, we noted that the surgery on Feb. 25, 2005, was for
amputation of the right great toe and left little finger -- this is not related
to the compensable injury and, as such, costs related to this surgery and
subsequent treatment should be removed from CANA's account.
"It is our belief that his injuries are not related to
employment, but his lifestyle which is supported by the fact that he had
subsequent frostbite injuries."
In Whiteley's file are numerous, albeit vague, references
blaming his "lifestyle" and other episodes of frostbite for his injuries.
He admits he fell asleep at a bus stop for a couple of hours
in mid-December 2005 and got frostbite again.
"I went to see the doctor, then stopped at the drug store in
the same building to get a prescription," says Whiteley. "I popped one seroquel
and one oxycontin."
One common side-effect of seroquel is sleepiness. Oxycontin
also has the same effect and may increase the effects of other drugs, like
seroquel, that cause drowsiness.
Whiteley admits he has wrestled with alcoholism -- a demon
that lost him the home he owned in Penbrooke and the thriving business he built
up when he worked as an electrician.
"I wasn't laying in a snowbank when I got frostbite. I was
at work," says Whiteley who was staying at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab
"I need to retrain from the ground up. I need an income and
a place to live. At the DI, if they perceive you as having a weakness they're
cruel. I'll get beat up. But without the DI I'd be toast."
Dermot Baldwin, executive director of the drop-in centre, is
concerned about where Whiteley will go after he is released.
"The fact is, he's missing two legs and his life is
dramatically changed," says Baldwin. "It's not complicated -- come to this
man's side and offer him assistance."
Although many in the medical care field treat the homeless
well, some fall through the cracks, says Baldwin.
"Glen was blocked. He was labelled for staying here. He got
less than adequate medical treatment," claims Baldwin. "He didn't get his
amputations in time. He was walking around with a black finger that was like
rotting wood for three to four months.
"It wasn't just his finger. His big toe was black. You just
get passed on to different doctors."
There were days Whiteley was "so sick" he couldn't show up
for treatment or WCB appointments, says Baldwin, who is troubled by the
increasing difficulties faced by the homeless in Calgary.
Baldwin will participate in a panel discussion in the Safe
Streets Safe Cities conference that starts Monday.
One issue to be tackled is the homeless situation in this
city of a million people.
"I'll focus on how difficult it is to provide the necessary
services in the human resources, social services areas," he says.
Several prominent experts, such as John Sewell, a former
mayor of Toronto and community activist, will address the homelessness issues
Calgary's Glenn Lyons, the volunteer board vice-president of
the Action Committee Against Violence, points out that 10 years ago, Calgary
had 400 homeless. Today there are 2,600.
Lyons, who was instrumental in the decision to hold this
conference, says there are solutions to homelessness -- affordable housing is a
Whiteley isn't the only homeless Calgarian facing
insurmountable obstacles, sometimes because of the poor choices they've made.
In his case, Baldwin notes that references to lifestyle
"crop up, but are never specific.
"He's one of those people who have made bad choices around
booze -- but worked hard all their lives. Should you have the right to not
treat him because he drinks?
"Who is going to tell me drinking caused this loss? Why did
they hire him in the first place? He's known in the industry.
"It's not just the toes, it's the complications that came
from the infections."
Baldwin is appalled that Whiteley was "forced to work" when
blood and pus were seeping out of his wounds and a baby finger was "blackened
"They aimed to find fault and degrade," charges Baldwin. "He
needs more help than he ever needed in his life and the insurance company is
trying to renege on any moral responsibility.
"You can't say he didn't get cheques or take taxis. But in
terms of sensitivity to a person going through hardship, they branded him as a
loser, a scam-type of person because he drank."
According to a WCB document dated Feb. 20, 2005, Whiteley,
who was placed on modified job detail, was penalized by the WCB for missing
work five days before a toe and finger were amputated.
It reads: "Worker called indicates ill and not able to work
at modified work. Worked Monday 9 hours and has not been at work 18, 19 and 20.
Worker informed that no WCB for days missed."
"In January 2005, client started missing modified work and
as a result his employment was terminated due to his error in judgment," says
another report, written by WCB caseworker Dennis Blasetti.
Photos taken by the drop-in centre's Baldwin during the
period he was supposed to be back at work show Whiteley's disturbing
shrivelled, blackened baby finger and toes.
"I went to work with blood leaking out of my shoes," said
Whiteley. "My feet were covered in black splotches. There is a note from a
doctor saying I wasn't able to work."
WCB can't comment on specific cases, says spokeswoman Wendy
"What we don't know is the leg loss, if that's directly
related to the original work-related injury. You know what I mean?" she says.
"It's important that you understand that we accept responsibility for
work-related injury, the compensable injury . . .
"This is all based on the medical information. We don't just
pull these things out of the air, right?"
If a worker has concerns there are different levels of
appeal that can be accessed, she said.
"It's definitely not a David-and-Goliath situation," says
Theberge. "He's got a caseworker, he's got a claim we've accepted. Some of the
information on his claim is all based on objective findings by the
"We take care of Albertans."
A frustrated Whiteley sits in his wheelchair at a Carewest
facility to which he was recently moved after spending almost five months at
Peter Lougheed Centre.
He has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He's been
fighting bouts of depression and fits of rage.
His food trays during a lot of his stay at the Lougheed were
left on a stand outside the door of his room by workers too afraid to enter his
"I've probably had 20 fights in my life -- 19 of them were
during all of this," he said. "I'm like a match lit up."
In a Sept. 16, 2005, letter to the WCB, Dr. Suzanne Walsh of
the Mental Health Clinic of 8th & 8th Health Centre wrote that Whiteley was
diagnosed with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression.
"Glen has no known history of depression or anxiety prior to
the unfortunate incident at his workplace where his fingers and toes were
apparently frozen," she wrote, noting the amputations he'd had by then.
"It is very likely that the losses this man has incurred
have triggered his current anxiety and depression. . .
"Since the injury occurred at work, I believe that the WCB
should be covering the cost of his depression and anxiety medication."
Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't, says Whiteley.
"I should have my mental issues dealt with," he says. "I
don't want to snap. It's a big world out there. I'm handicapped and I don't
know how to face people. My mind's a mess.
"I just see WCB as a dark
Whiteley says he received a call from WCB last Monday -- on
the heels of a Friday call from the Herald.
"Dennis Blasetti (the caseworker) said they would pay me
some benefits and he'd visit me soon. He's never visited me before. He said
CANA might have a job for me," says Whiteley.
Safe Streets Safe Cities
© The Calgary Herald 2006