WOODSTOCK, Ont. –While Wendy Foulis is understandably upset and bitter about the circumstances of her husband’s last trip to Saskatchewan, her experiences don’t appear typical.
They do raise important issues, however, about knowing your responsibilities and your rights when it comes to contracts, insurance and even professional conduct.
We told her story to some people in and close to the industry, as well as the company, hospital and union involved in the Foulis case.
The company he worked for, understandably, was reluctant to address the individual issue, citing employee privacy issues. A company spokesman said he is familiar with the case, however.
“It’s a tough story,” he says, noting that after the earlier, fatal accident in Alberta that had Foulis off work for an extended period, “CLAC and the WCB were basically managing the situation,” he says. “(We were) only involved peripherally.”
So far as Foulis’ time in Saskatchewan is concerned, however, he points out that his company has a collective agreement with the Christian Labour Association of Canada and so Foulis would have been working under its provisions. “We’ve got all our own insurance,” he adds, “So he would have been covered, absolutely.”
He also mentioned the realities of federal legislation, and the fact that every driver is required to keep a logbook with their hours, as evidence that Foulis should not have been driving excessively or while ill.
“I don’t know what the deal would be on that,” he says, “but it’s not something that (we) or any significant trucking company would fool around with. We’re very focused on safety. That’s your reputation, really.”
The company spokesman also points out that drivers aren’t forced to work overtime. “We have a supply of drivers and we keep within their hours,” he says.
“I feel sorry for Mrs. Foulis,” he adds. “It’s a horrible situation. But (we) treat all our employees, whether drivers or staff, really well. It’s just a great company.”
“It’s surprising he would have been turned away (from the hospital) suggesting it was because he didn’t have coverage,” says Glenn Caldwell of insurance provider National Truck League.
“I really didn’t think they could decline to provide medical treatment to anyone in need, especially if it was as serious as this.”
He cites as an example his mother-in-law from the US. “She had an issue when visiting us in London a few years ago. They took her in no questions asked and just sent a bill to her US address.”
Chris Henry, general manager of NAL Insurance agrees, noting that the worst that should have happened was that Foulis could have been charged the difference between what’s covered under his Ontario health insurance and Saskatchewan’s.
“Every province has an agreement with each other,” he says. “The only exception that we know of is certain prescriptions, ambulance, etc. that may need to be absorbed.”
As for the Weyburn, Sask. hospital, the quality of care coordinator for the Sun Country Health Region was unaware of the situation when first contacted and, like Foulis’ employer and CLAC, was constrained by privacy issues.
Dianne Green did express surprise at the claim that Ron Foulis was turned away initially, however.
“It would not happen,” she said. “We treat whoever comes in. We certainly try to get the money from the correct source when we can and, if it’s an emergency, it’s after the fact.”
She said that if it’s Wendy Foulis’ perception that her husband was turned away, “We’d really like to correct it.”
According to Wendy Foulis, Green got in contact with her after being apprised of the situation and has promised to look into it.
The Christian Labour Association of Canada was familiar with the case, though also constrained from talking about it very much, due to privacy issues.
But Alex Pannu, director of public affairs, says that the appropriate actions have been taken. “It’s a tragic situation,” he says, “but from what I’ve been able to understand it looks like the family had been in some financial difficulty before the death.”
He says CLAC made a voluntary payment out of its “hardship fund” before Foulis’ death and that the widow “received an insurance payment and a bereavement fund.”
Pannu says CLAC provided everything Foulis was permitted under the collective agreement.
“We felt badly,” he says, “and feel we did everything we could for him and his family. Hopefully she can resolve whatever issues she has.”
Pannu says he isn’t aware whether she’s made any additional representations to the union.
George Fraser, director of safety for Sharp Transportation Systems and an expert on the trucking industry, isn’t familiar with this particular case, but says if there were problems with the hospital, the trucking company, or the system in general, Mrs. Foulis should have plenty of avenues open for redress.
“It sounds to me like this poor lady is the only one speaking on behalf of her husband and when she makes the phone calls the first weak-kneed individual just gets rid of her,” he says.
“I’m surprised she isn’t going after the company. I would be going to a lawyer if I were her. There’s always a lawyer who’ll take a case like this pro bono.”
“She has some rights here,” Fraser says. “She just needs someone to be her champion.”
Fraser says if it were him, he’d get a local (Ontario) lawyer involved, who’d then have to start dealing with a counterpart in Saskatchewan.
Regardless of who is right and who is wrong -if anyone -in this particular case, Fraser says “In to-day’s world, you should be able to go to a trucking company, get hired on and everything’s going to be paid for, you have insurance covering you for medical, dental, and out-of-province.”
That isn’t always the case, however, though he isn’t specific about companies who may not provide such benefits.
“With some companies you almost have to pay out of your pocket to get hired and it can be a lot of money,” he says. “It’s very unfair and sometimes not legal. I hate to see that.”
Fraser also advises drivers to have a well-organized, financially smart spouse or other trusted person to keep them on the business straight and narrow to help avoid the kind of financial situation the Foulis’ found themselves in. •