Broken people from broken systems

Dr Mary Wyatt

For many injured workers, the greatest challenge is not the extent of their injuries but the depth of their despair.

Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, founder of the Work Injured Resource Centre, knows this firsthand.

When Rosemary suffered a work injury many years ago she was confronted with the complexity of the workers’ compensation system. Her experience galvanised her into action. 

To help herself and others through the complex process Rosemary connected with a group of like-minded people. The group’s aim was to support those who seemed to “fall by the wayside” under the weight of system complexity.

The result of their efforts is the Work Injured Resource Connection Centre in South Australia. An unassuming suburban house in Northern Adelaide, the Centre provides injured workers with resources to help them regain their confidence and return to activity. The Centre also assists those struggling financially.

Rosemary believes listening to workers is often the first step towards resolving their situation. Her modus operandi is working with injured people until they are ready to take greater control over their circumstances.

Workers contact the Centre at different stages of their claim. Some are assisted early, soon after injury. Others connect with Rosemary years down the track, often despairing of any hopeful resolution. Some have been considering suicide when they approach the Centre.

Jenny, as we will call her for anonymity, is visiting the centre on a quiet Tuesday morning. After an injury left her off work for several years, Jenny became seriously depressed. She spent her days on the couch, rarely leaving the house. Desperate for a way to help his wife, Jenny’s husband made contact with Rosemary.

Jenny now attends the Centre regularly to cook and prepare food for those in financial difficulty. The project gets Jenny out of the house, engages her in productive activity, and helps her feel like she is contributing to others. Her confidence is steadily increasing. Jenny efforts have led her to being nominated for a Regional Advantage SA Award, with her plans to open a commercial kitchen to provide more meals and other products for injured workers throughout South Australia.

Jenny’s work is part of the “Bags of Love” emergency food project which provides food supplies to injured workers suffering financially. Drawn-out, complex claims often result in a loss of financial control. The assistance provided by the Centre is designed to give the worker a degree of financial independence.

Why are many injured workers in need of the Centre’s help? As long-term readers of this site will know, South Australia has been performing poorly on almost all measures used to compare systems.

Issues include a lack of clarity between claims staff and rehabilitation providers, over-servicing, and reduced accountability compared to other jurisdictions. Employees lose the sense they are in control of their situation.

At its heart, the system suffers from an allegiance to process rather than people. Claims agents follow rules or guidelines rather than working at a rich and connected level with the people involved in the claim.

This cultural attitude frequently leaves claimants feeling disengaged and frustrated. A breakdown of trust leads to an increase in disputes and a decrease in compliance with treatment. As a result, the complexity of the South Australian system frequently creates long-term claims.

Rosemary’s work highlights the range of difficult situations created by the system. However, it also highlights how a person-centric approach can help even the most difficult cases.

Investing time and energy to help people help themselves can have a significant impact. People’s confidence and self-believe shape what they can achieve. Improving a person’s self-image may set them on a path to improve their function, level of activity and overall life satisfaction.

Rosemary and her team have no sophisticated higher education levels of study. Her efforts demonstrate that a willingness to engage with people is the fundamental basis of rehabilitation.


Rosemary is the Advantage SA Community Leader 2011

WIRC needs computers for injured workers to practice their skills. If you have a computer you no longer need, please make contact.

Work Injured Resource Connection Inc is a registered not-for-profit association, with monetary donations over $2 are tax deductible. If you would like to make a donation please email

Published 23 September, 2013 | Updated 29 March, 2016