Fraudulent billing leads to occupational therapist’s conviction

Agency secures 6 fraud-related convictions in December   

A northeast Ohio occupational therapist was convicted last month for felony workers’ compensation fraud for billing the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) for treatment services she did not provide to patients.

Susanna Kagalitskaya Freedman, of Euclid, pleaded guilty Dec. 17 in a Cuyahoga County court to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. The judge sentenced her to five years of probation and a $2,500 fine. Additionally, Freedman was permanently decertified to treat BWC patients for claim-related injuries.

“As an agency, we expect providers to give superior care and service to injured workers,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “This particular provider obviously did not meet the standard of care injured workers deserve and she cheated our system.”

Numerous red flags in Freedman’s billing practices and treatment notes sent to BWC prompted BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) to initiate an investigation starting in October 2017. Investigators discovered Freedman was falsifying documents, indicating services had been rendered when they had not. BWC would then pay for the substandard care based on the falsified information Freedman provided.

SID secured five other fraud-related convictions in December, bringing calendar year 2019’s total to 94.

Jeffrey Jakob of Toledo
Jakob pleaded guilty Dec. 31 in Toledo Municipal Court to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found he was operating his business, J.A. Jakob Marine Contracting, with lapsed coverage since March 2015. BWC agents made multiple attempts to assist Jakob in getting his coverage reinstated, but he failed to do so. The judge ordered him to one year of probation and to comply with a reinstatement payment plan with the Ohio Attorney General’s office. He must also remain current on installment payments to BWC.

Harold Brown of Bellefontaine
Brown pleaded guilty Dec. 23 to three second-degree misdemeanor charges of failure to comply for running his business, Brown’s Lawn & Tree Service, without workers’ compensation coverage. BWC investigators discovered his BWC policy had been lapsed since September 2010. Brown received 30 days in jail (suspended), a $250 fine, and was ordered to make regular payments to BWC and the Attorney General until a reinstatement payment plan was paid in full. The current amount due on Brown’s BWC policy is approximately $133,000.

Marie Olinger of Delta
On Dec. 17, a Franklin County judged ordered Olinger to three years of community control for working while receiving more than $2,800 in disability benefits from BWC. The investigation found Olinger had returned to work at the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio between January and March 2017 while receiving temporary total disability benefits.

Rodney Filibeck of Mansfield
Filibeck pleaded guilty Dec. 16 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. After receiving an anonymous tip, BWC investigators determined Filibeck was working construction jobs while receiving BWC disability benefits between September 2016 and June 2017. The judge handed down a 60-day jail sentence, suspended for 12 months of community control and ordered him to pay $2,519 in restitution to BWC.

Deangelo Speed of Shaker Heights
Speed pleaded guilty Dec. 2 in a Franklin County courtroom to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. BWC agents found Speed working as a truck driver while collecting BWC benefits from Oct. 20, 2015, through Jan. 27, 2017. The judge ordered Speed to pay BWC $7,599 in restitution and court costs by March 2, 2020. The judge also sentenced Speed to a six-month jail sentence, suspended for six months of probation.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

BWC a force for growth, workplace safety, opioid solutions in 2019

By Stephanie McCloud, Administrator/CEO, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

Some might view the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation as a purely reactive agency — we compensate injured workers and help them get back to work, health, and life after a workplace injury.

But as I reach my 1-year anniversary this week as BWC’s administrator and CEO, I’m struck at just how proactive we were in 2019, all to the benefit of working Ohioans, employers, and our economy.

Taking direction from Gov. Mike DeWine, our actions fostered business and job growth, created safer workplaces, and continued to battle the opioid and substance use epidemic devastating our state and nation.

I traveled across our state last year meeting business owners, local leaders, and other Ohioans both delighted and grateful for our efforts to keep workers’ compensation costs low and safety awareness high. Indeed, our list of accomplishments is impressive, and I never tire of talking about them!

Creating safe, healthy workplaces
We secured an unprecedented $40 million in our two-year budget for our Safety Grants program, allowing us to reach even more employers focused on workplace safety.

These grants, up to $40,000 per employer, provide private and public State Insurance Fund employers funding for training, wellness programs, and equipment intended to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and illnesses. These dollars purchase body armor for law enforcement, protect fire fighters from carcinogens, and improve the safety and security of the workers and students in our schools, among others.

To date this fiscal year, we have approved the following:

  • $8.2 million in School Safety and Security Grants for nearly 300 schools and school districts to purchase security doors and cameras, metal detectors, shatter proofing window film and the like.
  • $5 million in Safety Intervention Grants for manufacturers and other businesses.
  • $1.2 million in Ohio Law Enforcement Body Armor grants, a program administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
  • Nearly $725,000 for fire departments to protect firefighters from carcinogens and other toxins with special gear and industrial washing machines/extractors.
  • $247,000 to protect social workers and others who work with people with disabilities.
  • $82,000 in Workplace Wellness Grants to help employers establish wellness programs.

Our Safety Grants Program has proven so popular in the employer community that we have already reached our 2020 appropriation of $20 million!

Battling opioids and the substance use epidemic
Following Governor DeWine’s RecoveryOhio initiative, we continued our effort to mitigate the impact of the opioid and substance use epidemic on our workforce and broader community.

  • We removed Oxycontin from our formulary on June 1 and replaced it with painkillers that have stronger abuse-deterrent technology.
  • With Governor DeWine at our side, we launched our drug disposal program Nov. 1, providing injured workers with free disposal products that destroy leftover opioids so they won’t fall into the wrong hands. We know of no other workers’ comp system in the country doing this.
  • We secured $15 million over 2020-2021 for our Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program, which encourages employers to hire workers recovering from addiction. The program helps employers fill job openings and workers stay on a clean, successful path.
  • With encouragement from Governor DeWine, we have expanded this program this year from three counties (Montgomery, Ross, Scioto) to include Lawrence, Pike, Mahoning and Lorain counties. Clark, Greene and Madison counties are pending.

Improving Customer Service
At the core of everything we do each and every day is this question: How can we best serve our customers? That guiding principle led to several initiatives in 2019.

  • New tech protects our customers’ credit card information. We’re always looking for new ways to protect our customers’ information, which was the primary goal of a recent upgrade to our credit card payment system.

On June 12, a third-party vendor began managing our employers’ credit card information. Employers may notice the new automated process when they call our contact center to pay their premium with a credit card. Our representatives still handle the phone calls – they just activate the new, secure payment system when it’s time to collect credit card information. Kiosks at each of our service offices now also accommodate those who wish to pay in person with a credit card. The process to pay premiums online at www.bwc.ohio.gov remains the same.

  • Improving stakeholder correspondence. A largescale project is underway to review and rewrite hundreds of pieces of correspondence with the goal of simplifying and humanizing our communications, providing a better experience for everyone who interacts with our agency.
  • Safety messaging. BWC created a webpage to serve as an archive for our safety bulletins: https://info.bwc.ohio.gov/wps/portal/bwc/site/safety/bwc-library/safety-bulletins/. These bulletins are meant to provide safety tips and resources about urgent safety topics affecting Ohio’s workers.

Customer feedback
Whew! That is some list of accomplishments! But when it comes to our good work, you don’t have to take my word alone for it.

Watch these YouTube videos of business leaders talking about BWC as a true partner.

Watch this news coverage of the day we launched our Opioid Disposal Bag initiative and read the editorial by the Toledo Blade.

Moving forward
All of this would not have been possible without the support of so many, including Gov. DeWine, our BWC board, Ohio lawmakers, and the employers and workers in this state who put a premium on workplace safety.

I also owe it to the nearly 1,800 BWC employees around Ohio who are dedicated to making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. I am honored to work with them. Their work over the last year showed me that we are truly a people-focused agency determined to provide the best service possible to our customers — Ohio’s employer community and workforce.

I am confident 2019 is just the baseline for an even better 2020. Stay tuned.

Did you know? BWC offers free OSHA courses

Make safety training a priority this year with free Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) courses offered by BWC!

As partners in workplace safety and health, we want you and your employees to have a safe 2020. Specifically, we want to help you prevent workplace injuries by giving your employees up-to-date training.

We have quite a few OSHA-10 and OSHA-30 workshops scheduled in 2020 at various sites across Ohio. See the table below for specific dates and locations. To sign up for one of our courses, visit the BWC Learning Center. Did we mention the courses are free?

OSHA-10

Date Location Specific Workshop
Feb. 4-5 Canton Service Office Construction Safety Basics
Feb. 19-20 Portsmouth Service Office Construction Safety Basics
March 3-4 Oak Harbor (Ottawa County Resource Center) Construction Safety Basics
March 18-19 Youngstown Service Office Industry Safety Basics
March 25-26 Perrysburg (Bowling Green State University) Industry Safety Basics
April 1-2 Pickerington (Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health) Industry Safety Basics
April 21-22 Dayton Service Office Industry Safety Basics
April 22-23 Lima (The Ohio State University at Lima) Industry Safety Basics
May 20-21 Lima (The Ohio State University at Lima) Construction Safety Basics
June 2-3 Cleveland (Indiana Wesleyan University) Industry Safety Basics
June 24-25 Portsmouth Service Office Industry Safety Basics

OSHA-30

Date Location Specific Workshop
Jan. 27-31 Dayton Service Office Construction Safety Principles
Jan. 27-31 Youngstown Service Office Construction Safety Principles
Feb. 3-7 Pickerington (Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health) Construction Safety Principles
Feb. 10, 18-21 Canton Service Office Construction Safety Principles
Feb. 10-14 Cincinnati Service Office Industry Safety Principles
Feb. 24-28 Cleveland (Indiana Wesleyan University) Construction Safety Principles
April 13-17 Perrysburg (Bowling Green State University) Construction Safety Principles

Make 2020 healthier and happier with Better You, Better Ohio!®

By Kristen Dickerson, Ph.D., BWC Statewide Health, Wellness, and Special Program Manager

The arrival of 2020 brings a new year, a new decade, and some changes to Better You, Better Ohio!®, our health and wellness program for workers who work for small employers (150 or fewer employees) in high-risk industries.*

With Better You, Better Ohio!, eligible employers can still start a health and wellness program for their workforce at no cost, without paperwork and without the hassles of running it on their own. But now the program is better than ever.

A streamlined enrollment process – now one step that takes minutes – makes it easier for users to get started. Additionally, we and ActiveHealth Management will offer free monthly webinars on a variety of health and wellness subjects.

The new-and-improved homepage includes timely information and helpful tools for users. A new Wellness Champion Guide can help employers jumpstart their health and wellness programs by empowering workers to take on a more active role in the program.

With more than 17,800 participants in the program, Better You, Better Ohio! is bringing a healthier lifestyle to more and more Ohioans. The program offers an annual incentive, meaning if you participated in 2019, you are eligible again for another incentive for 2020! If you or your company participated last year, we want you to continue your wellness journey this year.

In 2019, we helped employers from all over the state set up 174 on-site biometric screening events for their workers. Many are already booking their events for this year.

Last year’s success stories include several participants losing weight, becoming more active, reducing blood pressure, reducing the number of medications they take, and getting their blood sugar in check. At one biometric screening event in 2019, two lives were likely saved when workers went to the emergency room with critically high blood pressures discovered during their screenings.

Stories like the ones above make the program a success and are reminders of how we can all be healthier and happier. Better You, Better Ohio! is here to help.

*Agriculture; automotive repair and service; construction; firefighters; health care; manufacturing; police and public safety; public employers; restaurant and food service; transportation and trucking; trash collection; wholesale, and retail

A look back at our most-popular posts of 2019

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

With 2019 ticking down to its final moments, we wanted to look back at the year and our most popular blog posts from the past 12 months.

This year’s most-read posts include a story about a safety council meeting that literally saved a life, a feature on our safety services helping a local business achieve success, a wrap-up of the 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo, and much more.

In case you missed them, below is a listing of our top 10 blog posts from 2019.

  1. Violence against EMS workers a real threat
  2. This safety council meeting was a life-saver – literally
  3. Walking down grain is a deadly operation (Don’t do it)
  4. New online poster archive takes visitors on a safe trip through time
  5. One year in, Better You, Better Ohio! is improving workers health, well-being
  6. BWC safety grants save lives, time, and money
  7. Workplace fatalities are so last century
  8. OSC19 – It was great to connect with YOU!
  9. Safety Innovation Awards finalists show their ingenuity
  10. A split second’ nearly cost safety expert his life

As always, if you have ideas for blog topics, please let us know. Leave a comment and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

Have a happy and SAFE new year!

Follow these tips for safe holiday road trips

By Jessie Strait, BWC Communications Department College Intern

 Many of us travel for the holidays in that not-so-jolly holiday traffic, and more cars on the road means more accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, traveling by car during the holidays has the highest fatality rate of any other form of transportation. This is due to heavy traffic, distracted driving, alcohol impairment, and poor weather conditions.

To prevent accidents and injuries on the road, follow these safety tips from the National Safety Council:

  • Keep an emergency preparedness kit in your car that includes a first aid kit, a tool kit, cat litter, and nonperishable food items.
  • Avoid drowsy driving.
  • Plan for traffic and leave early.
  • Make sure everyone in the car wears their seatbelt.
  • Put away your cellphone. Do NOT text and drive!
  • Be a defensive driver.
  • Drive sober or have a designated driver.

Also, make sure you pay attention to the forecast. Don’t drive in a snowstorm if you can help it. If you are caught driving in white-out conditions, here are some tips from AAA to help you avoid a crash.

  • Drive slowly. Accelerate slowly and decelerate slowly.
  • Increase the distance you leave between cars, which should be about 8-10 seconds.
  • Use the threshold braking technique: Put your heel on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Avoid coming to a full stop. Keep rolling until the light changes, if you can.
  • If you lose traction, steer in the same direction of the skid.

Read more tips on driving in poor weather conditions here.