Police union blasts El Mirage over treatment of officers after work-related injuries
A police union has come to the aid of an El Mirage police officer after he had to use his own sick and vacation time after being injured on the job and, that City management interfered with the officer’s medical care by calling his medical provider and getting his work status changed.
Jim Parks, executive director with Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs (AZCOPS), talked about the treatment of the officer by El Mirage management during a press conference at Gateway Park Tuesday morning.
He said recent El Mirage policy changes has left police officers to cover their work-related injuries with vacation or sick time, and in this case, the officer who is not being identified, filed a grievance with the City “outlining the course of events and requesting the city review the actions of the Human Resources Department,” but El Mirage city manager Dr. Spencer Isom who has final authority over grievances, delegated the matter to a subordinate who ended up terminating the grievance.
“The city’s insurance carrier then sent a letter of denial of Worker’s Comp coverage to the officer,” Parks added.
In a statement, Isom said when an officer is “injured in the line of duty,” State Worker’s Compensation policies, not City policies, govern how the benefits will be paid.
He said that City staff processes officer injury claims in a timely manner and in accordance with State Law and on industrial injury claims, the City’s Worker’s Compensation third party administrator reviews the claim and determines what benefits will be paid.
“The City has procedures that ensure officers receive appropriate medical care, affording the opportunity to either return to full duty or in a light duty capacity with full pay and benefits,” Isom added.
But, it’s not a Workman’s Comp issue said Parks. “We understand Workman’s Comp issues, we understand it’s a separate entity.
“What this is, is interfering with the officer’s care and I don’t know any whether it’s in the Valley or anywhere around, that the City management will call your provider and try to get your work status changed.”
Parks had paperwork from the medical provider stating the officer’s work activity status on March 29, 2015 which stated he “cannot drive, dizziness subsides indoor work, if not dizzy then can drive, can stretch and walk.
“That’s what he left the doctor’s office with,” Parks noted.
After the City’s contact with the medical provider, they had different orders from the medical provider that stated: “no activity, return for followup visit.
“So this extensively puts him on a work status,” said Parks. In other words, “You just go home and we’re done with you.”
Parks said when the City’s Human Resources department contacted the healthcare professional, comments made were: “we provide you with a lot of work, it shouldn’t be your concern how an employee gets to work.”
In March, several officers were assaulted by a suspect during an arrest and spat in the officer’s eye.
The suspect was later found to have Hepatitis C and medical professionals prescribed the officer a drug to prevent the possibility of contracting deadly communicable diseases.
A side affect of the drug caused the officer to suffer severe dizziness, nausea, and diminished concentration for several weeks.
Parks said what El Mirage has done is, adopted an OSHA standard and they’re getting away with “you’re not covered unless you get the disease.
“There’s no sympathy, no empathy for these officers out here.”
Doug Jones, an officer with El Mirage and president of the El Mirage Police Employee Association, said there are at least two other officer who were also injured about a year ago and experienced problems with the Human Resources department.
“In one case, the officer reported he had a re-injury because he was actually forced to come back to light duty. That injury, ultimately left him in the intensive care for several weeks,” said Jones.
“He was forced to do that because he was told he had to use his own time off, his own vacation and sick leave which he exhausted.”
Jones added: “So this is a repeat case, this is not the first time” and that Isom has “kept this very quiet.”
According to Jones, the City Council hasn’t been made aware of all the details, “so we really felt that the best option was to take this forward with a public announcement in the public eye, so the City Council could deal with it.”
El Mirage Council Members Lynn Shelby and Dave Shapera were at the press conference.
Shapera said the council needs to take a look and see what kind of improvements they can make; and “we’ve got to make things right, it’s that simple.
“To me, this is a moral issue. We need to make right for our city employees.”
A retired police officer, Shapera said it isn’t right that an “officer has to use up all his sick pay and all his vacation time and had to tap into the bank from other officers.”
He added that they’ll be listening to what the police union has to say and “I will be speaking with Dr. Isom, explaining my feelings.”
Shelby agreed with Shapera.
Jones said: “We have found that council members have been deprived of a lot of the details about what’s going on here.”
Jones added that there was a point when the officer became so sick, “he went back to the doctor and the HR director contacted and told him we’re not paying for this,” and “it’s coming out of the officer’s own pocket.”
Every time the city incurs an injury and there’s a cost that’s involved, their experience rating is impacted Jones noted. “And so HR, basically strives to minimize all of those impacts so that they don’t have a change in their rates.”
Amber Wakeman, an assistant to Isom, responded to questions about Worker’s Compensation and whether the City is trying to minimize impacts with the following statement:
“The City is prepared to openly respond to this media inquiry, but without a release from the unidentified officer we are unable to do so. Should the City receive a release from the officer, then it will openly respond to these fact starved allegations. Less specifically, the City’s third party Worker’s Compensation administrator, not the City, makes determinations on injury claims and treats all employees the same and in accordance with State law, regardless of Department. The allegation that the Human Resource Department tries to minimize experience rating impacts is unfounded and unsubstantiated.”
Donna Winston of El Mirage is an employee advocate volunteer with AZCOPS who helps and assists public employees with their legal plans, so when they run into issues, she helps them with their policy verbiage.
A 15-year resident of the city, Winston said she is “thoroughly disgusted. I’m disgusted that our police officers, our first responders, not being taken care of properly.
“With two sons who were in Afghanistan, I see first-hand from them not being taken care of properly. And I’m like, these guys are putting their lives on the line and ladies, and why should they not be protected in every aspect of the word.
“So it’s disgusting.” said Winston.
Shapera added: “We want all employees treated fairly and we do have a background as a city that we do treat our employees fairly.
“If you get hurt on duty, I as a councilman want you to be protected. You shouldn’t lose wages on something that happened that’s on duty.”
Because this is an administrative situation, Shapera said the Council won’t take action until they’re approached.