Eight hot safety tips for summer

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

Heat is one of the leading weather-related causes of death and injury in the U.S. It’s also one of the most preventable.

Summer isn’t officially here yet, but now’s as good a time as any to remind folks they can still enjoy the summertime weather without putting themselves or others in danger.

Below are eight helpful tips to be heat smart this summer:

  1. If you’re working outside, stay hydrated and take breaks in the shade often. Don’t wait to drink water until you’re thirsty!
  2. Use a buddy system if you’re working in excessive temperature conditions.
  3. Don’t leave kids or pets alone in the car.
  4. Limit strenuous outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day. Scheduling strenuous activities in the early a.m. hours can reduce your risk as well.
  5. Wear light colored and loose clothing. Dark colors absorb the sun’s rays.
  6. If you do not have air conditioning, create a plan for where you can go for heat relief – especially during the hottest parts of the day (libraries, theaters, malls, etc.).
  7. Ensure your pets have shade and plenty of water if they’re outside.
  8. Check on family, friends and neighbors who are elderly and sick and may not have adequate protection from the heat.

For those who work outside as part of their job, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration has a wealth of information on its Occupational Exposure to Heat webpage.

Whether at work or at play, symptoms of heat overexertion can range from mild (heat exhaustion) to life-threatening (heat stroke). Preparing yourself for the heat is an often overlooked first step. Watch the weather forecast, get enough rest, stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol and dress appropriately.

For more safety tips and information to stay safe this summer, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

Case update: Ohio doctor sentenced to 5-year prison term

Dr. Timothy Manuel, a Highland County physician who improperly prescribed opioids to injured workers, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison and ordered to pay $12,060 in restitution to BWC.

Manuel, 59, was the subject of a joint investigation by BWC and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy that found he prescribed large amounts of medically-unnecessary oxycodone to numerous patients while working as a doctor at Hillsboro Urgent Care in southwestern Ohio. He also billed BWC for medical services that weren’t provided.

Manuel was taken into custody following his sentencing in the Highland County Court of Common Pleas. Read more on the case in this Hillsboro Times Gazette article.

Youngstown auditor is BWC’s Fraud Finder of the Year

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

An external auditor in the Youngstown Claims Office received the 2017 Fraud Finder of the Year award May 22 from BWC’s special investigations department (SID).

The auditor, who does not want to be identified given the sensitive nature of his job, received the award for alerting SID to a case in which an employer failed to report payroll and failed to respond to multiple attempts to schedule a premium audit. An investigation by the SID Employer Fraud Team revealed that most of the employer’s Ohio employees were reported to ODJFS, but not to BWC. The referral resulted in the identification and recovery of $804,352 in savings to the state insurance fund.

“Thanks to this employee’s vigilance and timely referral, we were able to stop fraud and save the BWC system nearly a million dollars,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “Our success in uncovering fraud protects resources we need to take care of injured workers, create safe workplaces and provide the best service possible to employers at affordable rates.”

The auditor, who handles employer policy underwriting and premium audits, said he appreciates the recognition and is glad he could help.

“This is why we do what we do,” he said. “After spotting a red flag in this case, I dug a little deeper and found more red flags. Persistence paid off, and it’s a good thing, because this kind of behavior drives up our costs and hurts all the honest players in our system.”

SID received 2,320 allegations of fraud in 2017, with about a fourth of those coming from BWC personnel around the state — claims representatives, employer representatives and others who suspect illicit behavior on the part of injured workers, employers, health care providers or others connected to the BWC system. During 2017, SID closed 311 cases referred by 158 BWC employees. The SID investigations found fraud in 146 of the 311 cases and generated $2,724,426 in identified savings.

To show their appreciation, SID leaders conducted a thank-you tour and red flag training from March through May, presenting Fraud Finder Award certificates to BWC employees in customer service offices across Ohio.

“We encourage all BWC employees to contact us immediately if they suspect fraudulent behavior in our system, even the slightest hint of it,” said Director Wernecke. “We will conduct a thorough investigation, and the sooner we get started, the better.”

To report suspected cases of workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 (then select option 0, option 4) or visit www.bwc.ohio.gov.

Cleveland bartender’s Facebook post exposes work comp fraud

Restaurant worker owes BWC nearly $7,600

A Cleveland bartender must repay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation $7,595 after pleading guilty Tuesday to workers’ compensation fraud.

In addition to restitution, Gabriella Benkovits, 26, of Lakewood, must serve two years of probation for the first-degree misdemeanor, a judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ruled.

“The company managing Ms. Benkovits’ medical claim for her 2012 work injury alerted us that they found a Facebook post indicating she was working as a bartender in Westlake,” said Jim Wernecke, director of SID’s special investigations department. “Our investigation revealed she worked at three different establishments from July 2015 to February 2016 while collecting disability benefits she wasn’t entitled to.”

Wernecke said Benkovits deliberately concealed her employment from BWC, her physicians and other parties officially involved in her injury case.

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

Kudos to our Safety Council of the Year Awards winners!

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

All 83 Ohio safety councils do their part to keep workers and workplaces safe in their communities. We view them all as vital partners in making Ohio a safer and healthier place to work.

Each May, Ohio’s safety council sponsors and leaders meet to get the latest news, network and share best practices in safety council program management. At this annual event, we honor the highest achieving programs in the state with our Safety Council of the Year Awards.

BWC’s Chief Medical and Health Officer John Annarino presented the Grand Award for first place to the Stark County Safety Council, sponsored by the Canton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mid-Ohio Valley Safety Council, sponsored by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, took home the second-place award.

In third place was the Salem Area Safety Council, a division of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.

Taking home fourth place was the Sandusky County Safety Council, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Sandusky County.

Four additional safety councils earned an honorable mention, including the:

Congratulations to the 2017 Safety Council of the Year award recipients! And thanks to all the Ohio safety councils for partnering with us and our Division of Safety & Hygiene’s mission to maintain and grow a safe, healthy, competitive and productive workforce in Ohio.

Visit bwc.ohio.gov for more information about the Safety Council Program.

1,000 Fraud Hotline calls in 6 months!

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

We have received 1,000 calls since we launched our new Fraud Hotline system six months ago during International Fraud Awareness Week 2017. That’s 167 calls a month, a little more than seven a day, or one nearly every working hour!

In our November 14, 2017 blog, we noted that calling the BWC Fraud Hotline is the most interactive and direct way for you to report an allegation of fraud. Our hotline puts you in direct contact with an agent in our Special Investigations Department, one ready and willing to listen to your concerns. (Under our old system, you reached a representative in BWC’s Customer Contact Center.)

Our hotline agents have years of investigative knowledge, skills and experience securing the essential information from sources. Whether the fraud hotline agent is Connor, Jake, Jeff, Karen, Karie or Loryn, or any of our 25 fraud analysts assigned to our special investigations unit statewide, callers know within seconds that they have reached a committed, respectful professional.

You, the general public, are essential in helping us fight fraud, waste, and abuse in workers’ comp. We are celebrating our 25th year since the creation of our Special Investigations Department in 1993 and thousands of our closed, founded cases started with a call to our Fraud Hotline.

Just last month, for example, the convictions of Rodney Alberino, James Harris and Donna Steele were each the result of just such a call.

If you’re concerned about the alleged fraudster discovering your identity, rest assured. Your identity may remain either anonymous or confidential, depending on your preference. In addition, you don’t need to prove any facts or even have 100 percent confidence in your suspicion. You need only to suspect that fraud may have occurred or continues to occur. We’ll take care of the rest.

We look forward to hearing from you, so give us a call at 1-800-644-6292 if you suspect fraud. We will conduct the investigation and determine the facts. Together, we are successfully combatting workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio – one call at a time.

Thank you for your support!

Truck driver guilty of workers’ comp fraud

A truck driver from northeast Ohio must pay more than $12,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) after the agency’s investigators found him working again while collecting disability benefits.

Marshall Winn IV of Niles in Trumbull County pleaded guilty Wednesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. A judge sentenced him to five years of probation in lieu of nine months in prison and ordered him to pay BWC $12,450 and court costs.

“Mr. Winn was injured in 2014 and claimed he was disabled from work, but we found evidence that he started working again in January 2015 and that he was running his own trucking business,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department.

In other fraud news, a Dayton office worker pleaded guilty May 9 to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge after BWC found her working for nearly five months in 2016 while collecting BWC benefits.

A judge fined Brooke Mobley $200 plus court costs in lieu of a 60-day jail sentence. Mobley paid BWC $5,455 in restitution prior to her sentencing.

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