What started out as a normal work day for truck driver Kenny Whitey quickly turned into one that would alter the course of his family’s history.
“He called me to say that he was on his way home. He had one more load to drop off and then he would be home,” said his wife, Pat Whitey.
“He told me to tell the boys that he would be home in time to play some games with them — they loved playing video games together.”
What happened next is still a question mark, but doctors speculate that Whitey climbed on top of his truck to do something with the load he was carrying when a lid malfunctioned and caused him to fall 18 feet.
“He broke almost every bone in his face. They had to wire his jaw shut and give him a (tracheostomy) tube so he could breathe and a feeding tube so he could eat,” Pat Whitey said. “The doctors said he may never wake up, but we are so thankful that he did.”
That accident happened more than three years ago, but Whitey is still unable to walk or talk and requires around-the-clock care from a nurse.
Because he received a “catastrophic head injury” on the job, workers’ compensation had been paying for his medical care, including transportation to appointments, 24-hour nursing care and physical therapy.
Things were going fairly well for the Gainesville family of four — as well as can be expected when a family loses its main source of income — when they were notified that the company handling Whitey’s workers’ compensation, Southeastern U.S. Insurance Inc., had been declared insolvent.
Attempts to reach the company by The Times were unsuccessful and the company’s Web site no longer lists contact information; it only redirects visitors to other sites.
In a consent order of liquidation filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County, it was decided that “the continuation of (the company’s) business would substantially increase the risk of loss to the creditors, claimants, policyholders and the public and further it is in the best interest of the company’s policyholders and other creditors that Southeastern be placed in liquidation with the Commissioner of Insurance appointed as liquidator.”
The order determines that John Oxendine, as the Georgia insurance commissioner, will retain ultimate control over all of the company’s assets, including bank accounts, records and any property.
The order also mandates that “no action at law” can be brought against the company after the document was issued.
Although the Whitey family has retained legal counsel to weigh their options, they are currently in a state of limbo.
According to information on Southeastern’s Web site, patients with claims for injuries received after June 23, 2006, can contact the Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool for further financial assistance. For those individuals with injuries that happened before that date, patients are directed to contact their employer, “as the employer is now liable for the administration and payment” of their claim.
“(Whitey’s) accident occurred on June 20th, therefore he isn’t covered by the insolvency pool,” said Marvin Price, the Whiteys’ attorney.
“I’ve had meetings with his former employer and he is already telling me that he can’t handle (Whitey’s) medical bills without going into bankruptcy. Basically, this leaves (the Whiteys) in the cold. Their only recourse at this point for their immediate future is to look for help through public assistance programs.”
But even that may not be a solution for the Whiteys. They may exceed income requirements for some programs that would help with medical bills since Kenny Whitey receives a disability check and Pat Whitey works to help support their family, Price said.
Overall, Whitey’s medical bills total around $47,000 per month.
“He just started physical therapy three weeks ago. The doctors said that they saw a 2 percent improvement. When you have a brain injury, 2 percent is a lot of improvement and now we don’t have any way to pay for that,” Pat Whitey said.
“The van company that has been transporting him to his appointments isn’t being paid now, and we can’t expect them to keep working for free. And the nurse agency told us last week that we have 14 days to figure out what we’re going to do. Everyone has been holding on, but we just don’t know how we are going to pay for everything.”
Because the Whitey’s medical bills and care were being handled by Southeastern Insurance, Pat Whitey says her family never considered legal action against his former employer to secure coverage of his medical and other needs.
“He has always been a hard worker and a really good guy. I just don’t know what to do or who to call for help — I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even someone that I didn’t like,” said Pat Whitey.
“He needs around the clock care, but once the nurses are gone, I’m not sure what we will do. I can’t put him in a nursing home. If I did that he would just die, that would be like giving him a lethal injection. The clock is ticking, but I’ve never stopped believing that God will help us through this.”