|Brothers and Sisters,
Today Local 1014 met with the Civil Grand Jury to address workers' compensation issues along with staffing and budget-related impact as we search for ways to get our members back to work. President Gillotte and Chief Marrone led the teams from both Labor and Management. They gave testimony and vetted ideas to help return our members to work. No subjects were left off table. All the conversations and input will be in the grand jury’s report back to the Board of Supervisors and CEO.
The Civil Grand Jury is a group of 23 educated, experienced citizens who are sworn in and serve for one year to investigate County, City, and Joint-Power agencies. Their independent analysis and evaluation of issues and systems in the County served to help define problems and solutions as we have in our workers' compensation system and present that perspective to the BOS and the CEO. The Department and the Union have been working hard through the Workers Compensation Committee to address crisis failures resulting in nearly 400 of our over 3,400 sworn members being off on “I”.
We cannot sustain ourselves with the system as it exists. Both the Union and the Department, for the most part, are on the same page regarding what we recommend and have embraced to help right our broken system, and having the ability to give meaningful collaborative testimony to the jury is going to be extremely helpful to get authority and approval from the County to correct course.
Remember, we are a self-funded workers' compensation system, and all treatment, backfill in OT, administrative costs, and more are borne by the Fire Department. Furthermore, the system's administration has been relegated to the third-party providers (Sedgwick for Treatment and Corvel for Payment) as mandated by the BOS and CEO through the contract. We are taking steps, in general, to have power and authority over the contracts and directed work of Sedgwick and Corvel with accountability and potential penalties for not running our claims properly, resulting in the delay of treatment and return to work. We have hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for medical treatment, admin, and backfill going out every year. That money comes directly out of our budget. Raises, benefits, equipment, training, and education all suffer when the monies are going out to cover the costs of a broken system for both active and retiree members. Interestingly the cost of Sedgwick is nearly $13 million annually, paid for by the Department, and yet we have no hand in the directing of their work or accountability of that work.
As a result of the meeting today and our continued task for work, we garnered agreement between the Union, the Department, and the County to set a meeting with Sedgwick statewide top administrators and work to set Directed orders on how to process claims and expectations for performance and possible penalties for non-compliance. We are working on setting that agenda in two weeks and meeting in 30 days. This is exciting because ideas like automatic approvals for some claims instead of the cumbersome and often unnecessary reviews and IME’s for orthopedic and mental health claims as an example, to move our members directly to diagnosis and treatment and likely faster return to work as a result.
In addition, items like adding the BEEP test or OPAT test physical measurement tests BEFORE putting recruits into a tower, before any “I” claim recruit re-enters a tower, are also in discussion. The Department and the Union previously agreed to these tools, but the Department failed to implement them because they would not push back at Big County DHR, and County Counsel opposition during the existing list. We will now have that conversation with the BOS, CEO, and the full light and understanding of the situation in the hands of the Civil Grand Jury as well.
We have to follow up with our task force and the grand jury within the next 30 days. Jason Cervantes and Jon O'Brien are co-chairing the workers' compensation task force and you can contact either of them directly without the chain of command issues for any examples and or suggestions to help with claims management and processing.
We have kicked off a project of RETURNING 50 MEMBERS BACK TO WORK WITHIN THE NEXT 90 DAYS! WE NEED YOU! ARE YOU OFF ON “I” AND DESPERATELY WANT TO GET BACK TO WORK BUT NEED HELP? Email email@example.com, or call us or let RTW know or Chief O Brien’s office and let us help case manage your diagnosis, treatment, and return to work.
The Executive Staff and Union E-Board members will be “case managing” these 50 workers' comp claims to expedite good treatment and care and return to either regular duty or limited duty with work restrictions where the member stops burning 4850 time for the injury should they need it later. Please reach out. We will be combing the cases also and reaching out to find and help these 50. Returning 50 people to work in the next 90 days will return $11.9 million to our budget!
Also, if you are working to move to LACERA as your next “BID”, we are protecting you and working to expedite your process to be seen, treated, and retired appropriately for your 30-plus years of work and related injuries. If you are using the system and not advocating to return to work for reasons other than treating your injury and getting back to work, the department and County will come for you too for this very small group. No one using multiple insurances, or laddering or layering “I” over multiple years to just be off will have the luxury of silent acceptance of such. Investigators will review these few cases and move to either retire or return to work with these individuals, including meaningful and purposeful limited duty assignments to help our Department with the work that needs to be done.
We want to thank the Fire Chief for engaging, the Civil Grand Jury for reaching out to the Union, and our Law firm who helped us set up our carve out, Adams Ferrone, and Ferrone for attending to aid the discussion with legal issues in play as well.
We embrace and support a robust workers' compensation system that diagnosis, treats and returns our members back to work in a timely and professional manner and reject any systems failures to such or any individuals who game the system at a cost to our budget and our staffing for the members who truly need the help. Together we can repair and get the work comp system firing on all cylinders again. We look forward to the work and the support from the chief of our members.