Essential workers who came down with COVID-19 struggling to make ends meet after their workers compensation claims were denied

Essential workers who came down with COVID-19 denied workers comp claims

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Some frontline workers are struggling to make ends meet because they contracted COVID-19, and their workers comp claims got denied.

Santina Curry is a corrections officer at the Cuyahoga County Jail. In March, COVID concerns were just beginning. She says at that point; corrections officers were not even wearing face masks; that is when she came across the first inmate who appeared to be infected.

“I can hear him coughing in the hallway and she’s like, ‘The inmate he has a bad cough. We called medical they came down they said he doesn’t have a virus cause he doesn’t have a fever.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t always have to have a fever. They’ve been talking about that on the news,’ Curry recalled of her conversation with another C.O. “So I’m like okay I went and did my round.”

She said when she went to bring the inmate breakfast, she had to go inside his cell.

“He just coughed right in my face,” Curry said.

A week later, the symptoms came.

“I started getting a fever, a cough, chills at night and loss of taste,” Curry recalled.

Curry is one of 25 corrections officers at the jail who came down with the virus. She was incapacitated for about eight weeks and has not been able to work since March because she cannot pass a breathing test.

“I had FaceTime doctors visits daily because I had suffered from asthma since I was born but I hadn’t been dependent on the inhaler like I am now,” explained Curry. “So I had to take the inhaler 6-8 times a day and I take breathing treatments 6 times a day.”

So, she filed for workers compensation. The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation approved her claim, but her employer, Cuyahoga County, appealed the decision so it went to the industrial commission where her claim was denied.

“I was pissed,” said Curry. “I was just like I cannot believe they’re doing this.”

Her attorney David Nager says he is still mystified. He said the claim was denied because she couldn't prove the inmate who coughed on her had COVID because they cannot get access to his health records because of privacy laws.

“Any essential worker that left their house due to the requirement to be at work such as a corrections officer or firefighter who contracted it was at a much higher risk or greater risk of contracting COVID as opposed to the people who were sheltered at home,” Nager explained.

Curry is not the only one. Nager is also representing a firefighter paramedic in Lake County whose claim was also denied. He believes he contracted the virus after a patient vomited on him.

“These people are struggling through tough jobs to begin with especially a corrections officer who risks her health and safety at work every day and then gets COVID and then to add insult to insult she hasn’t received any money in almost three months now,” Nager said.

Curry said she now has close to $7,000 worth of medical bills to pay and no check coming in. She’s been relying on family and friends for help. Her attorney said he plans on appealing both cases. 19 News also reached out to Cuyahoga County for comment but we have not heard back.

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