The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has canceled the contract with the company tasked with managing Hanford worker compensation claims on behalf of the government.
The Lacey-based company, Penser North America, won the contract in 2009 and had collected $6 million for their work since that time. Penser has been at the center of the KING 5 investigation, “Sick and Forgotten at Hanford.”
“Yes! That’s all I have to say. Thank God, Thank God, because they have destroyed our lives. They’ve destroyed our lives,” said Melinda Rouse of Pasco. She and her husband Lonnie have been fighting Penser for nearly eight years in an attempt to get a worker compensation claim approved for Lonnie’s brain damage. “It’s like the best day of my entire life right here. This one little moment…because that’s how hard we’ve had to fight them.”
Workers who feel they’ve gotten sick from working at the nuclear site are directed to Penser to review and manage their claims. The Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industries does not manage the process at Hanford. Instead, DOE is allowed to hire its own contractor to do that work. By law, Labor and Industries is the only entity that can officially accept or reject a claim. Penser is the company that makes the recommendations to the state. Through a review of hundreds of documents and interviews with dozens of workers and experts, KING 5 has found Penser uses unfair tactics to get claims denied.
We’ve found Penser submitting incomplete and misinformation to doctors.
Workers report the company “doctor shopping.” Most are sent to more than one independent medical examiner, hired by Penser. In several cases, those doctors received misleading information. In other cases, Penser’s doctors appeared to manipulate patient information to work against them.
“I mentioned that my dad was getting ready to pass away so I wasn’t sleeping well. In my IME (Independent Medical Examiner) report it said ‘I had family problems’ (that could have contributed to illness). That’s all they wrote,” said Dave Klug, a current Hanford worker diagnosed with occupational asthma and thyroid cancer.
Others have felt harassed by condescending phone calls and tactics such running credit checks on workers.
“It’s past time for DOE to make this change. There are too many workers with too much evidence of unfair practices by Penser which resulted in denials to keep them around,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of the advocacy group, Hanford Challenge.
The DOE had detailed contract options with Penser to continue business through the year 2019. If the options had been exercised, the contract value would have been $4.3 million. Instead, Penser’s contract will expire in September with an estimated amount of $1.6 million paid to the company.
“I’m certain that Penser was doing everything to satisfy its customer, the U.S. Dept. of Energy,” said Carpenter. “So DOE needs to change its ways or there will be no change.”
In a statement sent to KING on Thursday, Penser said they plan to bid again on Hanford’s contract when the DOE puts out a request for proposal. Here is the statement in its entirety:
“Yes, we are aware of the U.S. Department of Energy intent to not exercise their options to continue the current contract with our company. We are unsure if you are aware of this, but, the current contract is our second contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
We received written notice of their intent to not exercise the options to continue the current contract on February 1, 2017. The letter we received stated the following reason for their decision. ‘The major cleanup and mission support contracts managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at the Hanford Site will expire in 2018 and 2019. DOE is developing an acquisition strategy for new contracts that will align with future work scope and which will substantially advance our environmental mission at the site. To better align this acquisition strategy, with services at Hanford such as the administration of workers compensation, it has been determined that it is in the best interest of the Government to compete the Third Party Administrator contract for workers’ compensation services. This will ensure that award and transition of the new Third Party Administrator contract is completed, prior to the award of any new cleanup contracts.’“We intend to respond to the U.S. Department of Energy’s request for proposal and, if chosen, continue our working relationship with them,” wrote Patty Hicks, Branch Manager (Richland), Penser North America.
The DOE sent a statement on the suspension of the contract. Here is that statement in its entirety:
“The major cleanup and mission support contracts managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at the Hanford Site will expire in 2018 and 2019. DOE is developing an acquisition strategy for new contracts that will align with future work scope and which will substantially advance our environmental mission at the site. To better align this acquisition strategy with services at Hanford such as the administration of workers compensation, it has been determined that it is in the best interest of the Government to compete the Third Party Administrator contract for workers' compensation services. This will ensure that award and transition of the new Third Party Administrator contract is completed, prior to the award of any new cleanup contracts. DOE will be conducting market research this year to determine what is in the best interest of the Government, with regards to timing of the Third Party Administrator contract recompete,” wrote Mark Heeter, DOE public affairs specialist.