CFA refuses to fund treatment for woman who was punched, duct-taped to truck

Warning: This story contains graphic content

The Country Fire Authority has refused to fund specialised clinical care for a former volunteer who launched Supreme Court action against the organisation last year over alleged violence and bullying she suffered as a teenager at a station near Bendigo.

Katelin De Rosa has been diagnosed with acute traumatic stress disorder and has repeatedly attempted to take her own life as a result of her experience at the station, according to court documents.

Katelin De Rosa launched Supreme Court action against the CFA last year for alleged violence and bullying against her.

Her mother, Elizabeth, said her daughter’s fragile mental health had deteriorated since she was informed by the CFA a fortnight ago that it would not pay for the treatment.

In 2017, De Rosa was allegedly duct-taped to the bull bar of a fire truck, kicked by a male officer while on the ground, and repeatedly referred to as “skank” by colleagues at the Eaglehawk fire station, according to Supreme Court documents filed in October last year.

Images provided to The Age appeared to show a senior CFA member grabbing De Rosa by her hair and forcing her to the ground, as four other male firefighters watched.

Now 22, De Rosa received correspondence from the CFA on March 12 when she was informed the organisation would not fund an impatient stay at The Melbourne Clinic to treat her traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

The CFA said its decision was based on “the grounds that the request and costs are not for the compensable injury currently diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder”, according to the letter from CFA injury recovery and support services manager Denise Bergles.

Bergles provided several reasons why the funding request had been rejected, including De Rosa’s refusal to transfer medical records to the CFA or undertake an assessment by an independent medical expert.

Elizabeth De Rosa said she had already provided the CFA with extensive medical records for her daughter.

In another letter dated last Thursday, Bergles warned that funding for travel and accommodation costs associated with treatment in Melbourne could be cut if Katelin De Rosa fails to provide further medical information within 28 days.

Katelin De Rosa has launched legal action against the CFA over allegations of serious assault at the Eaglehawk fire station in 2017.

The CFA has also refused to pay several of De Rosa’s medical costs from treatment by Bendigo Health, and instructed her to make claims as a public patient under Medicare, according to her mother.

Elizabeth said her daughter was again hospitalised in Bendigo following the CFA’s recent rejection of her funding request.

“Their approach has exacerbated Katelin’s mental health issues to the point where she is under full-time care. Due to their current actions, things are just getting worse,” Elizabeth told The Age.

“The CFA has failed us in its claims about support. They had agreed to financially support Katelin with her mental health needs, and now they are trying to wriggle out of it.”

She referred to CFA correspondence from August 2021, when CFA general manager of people and culture John Hussey appeared to give an undertaking to cover the cost of De Rosa’s treatment.

“The CFA confirms that it will continue to provide Katelin with support through the VCS [volunteer compensation scheme] and is committed to exploring ways in which to provide Katelin with further support,” Hussey said in a letter in August 2021.

“If you or Katelin and her mother have any specific suggestions as to appropriate supports that could be provided, we encourage you to raise them with CFA so that they can be considered.”

Elizabeth also received assurance from then-police minister Lisa Neville, who in an April 2020 letter said: “The CFA will continue to case manage the claim and communicate with you regarding your family’s ongoing needs and circumstances.”

Last week, a CFA spokeswoman said the organisation required relevant medical information when assessing entitlements under its volunteer compensation scheme.

“When additional treatment is requested, there are occasions where CFA will require an assessment by an independent medical specialist to determine if the treatment is linked to the compensable injury under the scheme,” the spokeswoman said.

“Once provided, and if assessed as being linked to the injury, support options can be considered.”

De Rosa’s alleged abuse first came to light in December 2017, when CCTV footage of her attack was leaked to the media, which sparked an internal investigation by the CFA.

Four members were immediately stood down by then-CFA chief executive Frances Diver, who said at the time she was “sickened” by the incident.

While the CFA referred the matter to police and WorkSafe, no charges were ever laid. At the time, De Rosa and her mother were unwilling to take the matter further and claimed the CFA did not provide all CCTV footage of the incident.

After years of failed negotiations with the CFA, De Rosa and her mother decided to proceed with the civil case against the organisation in October last year.

De Rosa and her mother, Elizabeth, who is acting as her daughter’s litigation guardian, have both consented to The Age publishing disturbing details of her alleged abuse contained in legal documents and the devastating toll it has had on her life.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article