Triad first responders are working to secure better coverage in case of COVID-19 infection.
Ross Neugeboren is the president of the Guilford County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics. He explained Wednesday that currently firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are not covered under workers’ compensation if they fall sick.
“Something like a slip trip or fall, that you could kind of expect to prepare yourself for,” he said. “If you step out of the truck wrong and plant your foot and break your leg, that’s an occupational injury. COVID-19 and other infectious diseases are not as simple you can’t see them.”
In Guilford County, five first responders have tested positive for coronavirus. Neugeboren said those are dealt with on a case by case basis when it comes to compensation.
There are statewide efforts to change the legislation for first responders and other frontline workers, but Neugeboren explained county leaders can work faster.
“The county government does not need to wait for the state worker’s compensation law to be changed, they can choose how to administer their claims they are self-insured,” Neugeboren said.
He said the organization is approaching Guilford County Board of Commissioners to see if coverage can be expanded.
“Workers comp only pays a percentage of what they are paid, so that’s not going to make them whole at all, but it will at least give them some guarantee that they’ll be able to provide for their family to a certain degree,” Commissioner Skip Alston said.
Alston plans to bring the issue to the board at a meeting Thursday night. From there, he will ask county attorneys to review, and any action be taken June 4.
“Across the country, 12 states and a handful of municipalities have adopted either state code, changing the workers compensation, most of which are tied into the emergency disaster declarations, or creating a local policy that says if this exposure is documented on the job we’re going to cover it,” Neugeboren said.
In the middle of National EMS Week, Neugeboren said he was grateful for any action taken by commissioners.
“The bottom line is that our group, paramedics, firefighters and EMTs are at an extreme risk to contract coronavirus,” he said. ”By having a workers compensation process in place, it means that we’re going to stay on the job get treated quickly and be able to be back in the field to take care of the people that we love to take care of.”