7 May 2021

Canterbury woman still seeking ACC cover two years after injury

8:30 pm on 7 May 2021

A Canterbury woman is still waiting to find out if she can get mental injury cover from ACC following a traumatic injury suffered more than two years ago.

Laura Roberts has been seeking mental injury cover from ACC after an incident at Christchurch Hospital.

Laura Roberts has been seeking mental injury cover from ACC after an incident at Christchurch Hospital. Photo: Nate McKinnon

She suffered an injury to her arm after a routine medical procedure went wrong in late 2018.

But despite two independent reviews asserting that a physical injury did take place, ACC is continuing to decline her cover.

When Laura Roberts left her home of Texas and moved to New Zealand, she never expected to be living the nightmare she is today.

It began in November 2018, following a heart procedure at Christchurch Hospital.

She says the procedure itself went perfectly fine, but things changed after the operation.

Roberts had a special line, called a PICC line, inserted into the vein inside her left arm.

"That was a special kind of PICC line even for that ward they'd never encountered that before. It has hooks that hook underneath the skin around the vein that are kind of like fish hooks, for lack of a better description," she said.

Roberts alleges the nurses tried yanking the PICC line out of her arm, causing a gash the size of her thumb, that left her with significant mental trauma.

"When the other nurses came in the room to assist the one [nurse] who was not very skilled at what she was doing, they ordered my mum who was there at that time -- to help them hold me down. They decided that the scalpel was the best way to remove the line. And they proceeded to try to cut the fishhook out of my arm," she said,

"Of course I said stop, I said, 'don't do this, you're hurting me'. And they just piled on top of me. The male nurse put half his body over mine."

Christchurch Hospital disputes her version of events, claiming no scalpel was involved. It says the cut in her arm was routine and did not require stitches.

Christchurch Hospital.

Christchurch Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

It also acknowledged the removal caused Roberts some distress.

But after inspecting the incision on her arm, Roberts' GP claimed for cover on physical injury on her behalf.

The claim was denied by ACC, which said there was no injury.

But an independent review decision in August 2019, found that an injury did exist, and the reviewer directed ACC to find whether it was an ordinary consequence of removing the PICC line.

Roberts' primary objective is for mental health cover, and by law, ACC can cover mental injury as a result of a physical injury.

Roberts says the event left her traumatised

"I hadn't slept. I was throwing up. I was just absolutely shaken, crying most of the day and night before, I could not, no matter what I tried to do to change what happened, I couldn't get over the fact that I had three people holding me down and hurting me like that. That was just awful," she said.

After the review, Roberts filed a claim for mental injury, in addition to the physical injury claim. She wants ACC to pay for counselling.

But she was shocked to learn ACC declined her second claim for physical injury and this time her mental injury as well.

It also emerged that when ACC consulted a vascular specialist for advice on the issue, they did not ask whether the injury was an ordinary consequence of removing the PICC line -- despite a reviewer directing them to do so.

Roberts' husband, Ben, thought the injury was already a settled issue.

Laura Roberts with her husband Ben.

Laura Roberts with her husband Ben. Photo: Nate McKinnon

"What ACC are supposed to do if they're not happy with some finding of fact that a reviewer has made or some interpretation of the law that the reviewer has made, ACC are supposed to appeal that to the district court," he said.

The process went to a second review in September last year.

By now, a psychiatrist had diagnosed Laura Roberts with PTSD following the PICC line removal.

The new reviewer, Peter Barker, also agreed that a physical injury did exist -- and issued an estoppel, preventing ACC reopening the case of whether a physical injury existed or not.

Barker quashed ACC's decisions around physical and mental injuries, and directed whether it will accept a mental injury caused by a physical injury.

But Laura Roberts said ACC, has once again questioned the existence of the physical injury, despite the estoppel last year.

"They are using every dirty trick they can think of and it's not right. Because, you know, the stupidity is they have already [possibly] spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting me. If they had even spent a couple of thousand [dollars] I would probably be cured by now," she said.

ACC offered limited comment to RNZ.

A spokesperson confirmed Roberts' physical injury claim is going to review.

"We are also waiting for the results of an assessment which will inform our decision on her mental injury claim. It would be inappropriate for us to comment while these processes are underway," they said.

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