BWC nurse battles COVID-19 on front lines

May is National Nurses Month. BWC nurse tells her story.

By Jennifer Wolford RN, Medical Service Specialist, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

Away from my BWC job as a medical service specialist, I work as an intermittent nurse in an emergency department (ED) at an Akron-area hospital on weekends. Since the community spread of COVID-19 began, being an ED nurse means the odds of being exposed again and again to this virus are virtually guaranteed.

BWC nurse Jennifer Wolford, RN, works on weekends in the emergency department at an Akron-area hospital.

My colleagues and I can’t see this invisible killer, of course, but we see its impact on our patients and on each other. Not just the physical symptoms, but the fear — you can see it on their faces, you can feel it. We’ve watched patients die from this disease.

I wear a face mask and face shield for my entire 12-hour shift to protect myself and my co-workers. After my shift ends, I cover my car seat with a towel and wipe down my door handles, steering wheel, and other parts with Clorox wipes. When I come home, I immediately put my clothes into the washing machine on sanitize. I use a Clorox wipe to clean anything I touched.

After I shower, I again sanitize everything I touched. I keep a safe distance from my family. Basically, I treat myself as though I actually have COVID-19 because we know people with the disease might have it for days and weeks without showing any symptoms.

This is my life. I have a son with multiple disabilities; I can’t take any risks. Until there is a vaccine, my reality looks a lot different – this is my new normal.

Respect the virus

This is everybody’s new normal, actually. That’s why I support Governor Mike DeWine’s encouragement for all of us to wear a face mask in public where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. You may believe you don’t have the virus, or you may feel silly wearing a mask, but none of us is safe from this disease.

Case in point: My family has a friend who is just 58 and otherwise healthy, no co-morbidities. He had the coronavirus and was on a ventilator for nearly three weeks. Thankfully, he is recovering now. Unlike my friend’s mom, my ex-husband’s stepfather, and perhaps someone you know, too.

A colleague asked me the other day, “You work at BWC now, why put yourself at risk working in an emergency department, especially these days?”

I’m a nurse, I told him. It’s what we do.

The American Nurses Association promotes May as Nurses Month to support and recognize nurses for their contributions in crises and for their ongoing roles in meeting the needs of patients and their communities.

Akron business owner convicted of manslaughter, workers’ comp fraud

Company has history of worker injuries, noncompliance with BWC

The owner of an Akron construction company pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter July 24 after one of his workers fell to his death in late 2017.

James D. Coon, the owner of James Coon Construction, also pleaded guilty in a Summit County courtroom to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) found Coon lacked BWC coverage when his employee died and that he repeatedly lied about his business to minimize his premiums or avoid paying them altogether.

“This tragic case underscores the critical importance for workplace safety protocols and workers’ compensation insurance,” said BWC Administrator Stephanie McCloud. “Our investigation found Mr. Coon willfully and deliberately disregarded his responsibilities under the law, and now several lives are devastated by it.”

Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez Sr., a 39-year-old married father of five, died Nov. 4, 2017, at the scene of his fall. It was his second day on the job. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration notified BWC of the accident four days later.

According to BWC’s special investigations department, Juarez was working on a sloped roof of a 3-story apartment complex without a fall protection device when he slipped and fell 25 feet to his death. Among the investigation’s findings:

  • Two other Coon employees were injured in falls prior to Juarez’s death, also during a time when Coon lacked BWC coverage.
  • Coon told BWC he no longer operated his business. But in March 2018 — five months after Juarez’s death — agents observed six Coon employees at a worksite tearing shingles from a roof. They had no safety equipment.
  • Coon consistently reported to BWC over the years of having no employees. A BWC audit found nearly $286,000 in payroll to employees from July 1, 2009 through July 1, 2018.

Coon owes BWC $303,152 to date for unpaid premiums and claims costs for workers injured during a policy lapse. His conviction for involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, is punishable by a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Sentencing is set for August 21.

BWC safety services and grants: BWC offers free safety consultations and grant dollars to assist employers with the purchase of equipment that improves workplace safety. For more, visit bwc.ohio.gov and click on the Safety & Training link.

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