New facilities eligible for indoor air quality funding

**As of August 6, the deadline for the COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program has been extended to October 15, 2021. **

Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot about COVID-19, including the impact indoor air quality (IAQ) has on the spread of COVID-19. That’s why we’re so proud to offer the COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program. The program started in December 2020 and has received over 700 applications so far.

Because of the success of the program and the positive feedback we’ve received, we’ve decided to expand the number of eligible facilities. Previously, the program was limited to nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult day centers. We’ll now include:

  • Intermediate care facilities.
  • Hospices.
  • Senior centers.
  • Adult care facilities.
  • Waiver settings (group homes).
  • Substance use treatment centers.

With the inclusion of these new facilities, we’ll be able to protect additional vulnerable Ohioans. If your facility falls under one of these categories, we encourage you to apply today. The program offers up to $15,000 in reimbursement to inspect heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, assess air quality needs, and make improvements through maintenance, increased filtration, portable air cleaners, and other interventions.

If you’ve made any improvements to your HVAC systems throughout the pandemic, we encourage you to apply. The program will reimburse costs incurred from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Applications are open until June 30, 2021.

Not an eligible facility?

If your facility doesn’t fall under one of these categories to qualify for funding, don’t worry, we have resources for you too. We know that maintaining safe and heathy IAQ is imperative to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so we’ve put together some resources your facility can use to learn more.

You can watch a recording of one of our IAQ webinars here:

For more on IAQ, we encourage you to check out these resources:

Visit our website to apply now. You can also contact BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene or call 1-800-644-6292 with questions.

My role at BWC has changed during the pandemic — and I couldn’t be prouder

By Vern Davenport, Security Manager, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

I am not a doctor, a nurse, or health care provider of any kind, but I am saving lives and protecting the health of my fellow Ohioans.

I am but one player in our state’s continued battle to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m a critical player – I drive a truck. I work with my colleagues in BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) and with the state’s Emergency Operations Center to deliver ventilators, test kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care settings, hospitals, and front-line workers across our state.

Vern loads a pallet of air filters onto the BWC box truck. His pickups and destinations have been all over Ohio, including down Amish country gravel roads. “I kept an eye out for a horse and buggy to help get me out in case I went off the road,” Vern said with a laugh.

That’s not what I signed up for at BWC – as security manager, my role is the safety and security of all BWC buildings – but I couldn’t be prouder to serve in this role today. I’m even more proud to report this milestone: My SID colleagues and I just passed a huge milestone – delivering more than 3.5 million pieces of PPE and other essential equipment as we hit the one-year mark of COVID-19 in our lives. This includes face masks, protective gowns, face shields, sanitizer, pop-up testing equipment, and more.

I’m like many in our agency who pivoted in March 2020 to help our state defeat COVID-19 in any way we could. We’ve sent millions of masks to Ohio businesses, returned $8 billion in dividends to those same businesses, and lent our customer service specialists to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services when unemployment claims soared.

When the pandemic sent most of us home to telework, it freed me and others in SID to contribute in other ways.

Every state agency has representatives in Ohio’s Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates the COVID-19 response. BWC has been asked consistently to fill in the delivery gaps, so I’ve taken pallets of PPE and other supplies to every corner of the state, including viral test kits to Cleveland and equipment to build pop-up test sites in Cincinnati. On a run in late February, I dropped off 259,000 face masks in Cleveland on behalf of the Department of Aging.

For me, each delivery is a source of pride because I know how critical these items are to the health and safety of every Ohioan.

It’s not just the state agencies pulling together, though. Individuals and businesses throughout Ohio have stepped up. I’ve picked up gallons of hand sanitizer made at a Cleveland microbrewery and delivered it to a National Guard distribution center in Columbus. Another mission took me to a Columbus paper plant, which had shifted its production to making masks and donated them to the state. We truly are #InThisTogether.

I drove a box truck for a food distributor for 14 years, so this “new” role isn’t so new to me. The only difference now is I wear a tie every day, as I’ve always done since joining BWC in 1994. I like wearing it and the professionalism it brings. The folks at the warehouses I frequent shout, “Hey, it’s The Tie Guy!”

Whenever Vern Davenport makes regular warehouse pickups in the box truck, the folks always shout, “Hey, it’s The Tie Guy!” Vern hasn’t stopped wearing a tie since his first day on the job at BWC in 1994, and he’s definitely the most well-dressed delivery guy in the Emergency Operations Center.

That kind of lighthearted banter is what we all need. The pandemic’s emotional toll is every bit as concerning as the physical, and it’s important we lift each other up. So no matter where I go, I smile. I ask how people are and thank them for the job they’re doing.

For many of us in state government, the pandemic has redefined what we do and how we do it. I could not be prouder to get behind the wheel and represent BWC in this noble work.

Vern Davenport is the security manager for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, overseeing the safety and security of all BWC buildings statewide. He first joined the agency as a security contractor in 1994 and was hired as an employee in 2004.

Prevent COVID-19 spread through HVAC improvements

Indoor Air Quality focus of March 3 webinar

By Jeff Hutchins, MS, CIH, Regional Loss Prevention Manager

We all know a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning can weaken the spread of COVID-19. So can improvements to your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

How to do that in a smart, step-wise fashion will be the subject of a free webinar we’re hosting from 2-3:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, in partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Employers and building owners wanting to improve their indoor air quality will benefit from this webinar.

In the age of COVID-19, indoor air quality, or IAQ, has taken on a whole new dimension. Since the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, maintaining safe and healthy IAQ becomes a vital link in preventing the disease. It also reduces the risk of other indoor health concerns. (IAQ, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.)

Register for the webinar here.  (We will also offer the webinar during our Ohio Safety Congress & Expo  March 10-11.)

Topics covered include:

  • Increasing outside air and room (or building) air exchanges.
  • Improving central HVAC filtration.
  • Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration to enhance central HVAC system air cleaning, particularly in high risk areas.
  • Deploying ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement where increased ventilation and/or filtration options are limited.

The webinar also details BWC’s COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program. This federally funded program originally targeted nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult day centers, but we are expanding the program to include the following:

  • Intermediate care facilities.
  • Hospices.
  • Senior centers.
  • Adult care facilities.
  • Waiver settings (group homes).
  • Substance use treatment centers.

For more on IAQ, I encourage you to check out these resources:

Customers show us the love during COVID-19

BWC’s economic, health and safety initiatives draw high praise

By Winnie Warren, BWC Interim Chief of Employer Services

Working for the state of Ohio, we all know our job is to serve our fellow Ohioans and hopefully make a positive difference in their lives, so it’s gratifying when our colleagues and leaders take note — an email or video message from Administrator Stephanie McCloud, for instance, or a nod from Governor Mike DeWine at his daily press briefings.

But it’s doubly rewarding when the people you serve reach out and thank you themselves. We’ve received many emails, phone calls and social media posts in recent weeks praising our efforts to help business owners through the COVID-19 pandemic. One call in particular stands out. It was from Heather Baines, the founder and president of HR Construction Services LLC in Cleveland.

Heather Baines, founder and president, HR Construction Services in Cleveland

Heather wanted to personally thank us for two things — a check she received in late April for $9,450, her company’s share of the $1.6 billion dividend we sent to Ohio employers to ease the impact of COVID-19 on their bottom line. She also appreciated the box of 50 face coverings we sent her as part of our Protecting Ohio’s Workforce – We’ve got you covered initiative.

She said both were blessings at a critical time.

“Between the financial help and the masks, it almost made me want to cry because it shows I’m not forgotten,” Heather said. “There have been some terrible days – days where I questioned, ‘What am I doing and why am I still doing this?’”

Heather told me about her business, that all the reasons she started her company — to hire local contractors and bring diversity to jobsites in her hometown while growing a minority-owned business — were coming to fruition. Then the pandemic hit and made a mess of everything.

Getting that check from BWC meant everything, she said. It meant she could pay her workers, her office rent, purchase jobsite materials and fund her employees’ benefits. (Nearly 200,000 Ohio employers received a dividend, which roughly equaled their entire BWC premium in policy year 2018.)

“We’re still new in the construction industry, so paying on time is huge for me,” said Heather, who founded her company in 2015. “That’s a great reputation to have. The money goes out as quick as it comes in, but that check was tremendous and made a big difference.”

The face coverings were another godsend, she said. In late May we started sending at least 2 million face coverings to employers across the state to weaken COVID-19’s spread. We’re not billing employers for this initiative. At less than a dollar a piece, we’re picking up the tab from this year’s budget.

Heather told me her employees had been wearing disposable masks that cost her up to $5 a piece, and they were using the same one on multiple days because supply was hard to find. Her neighbor, who was making masks for health care workers, made some for Heather’s employees, too. Then BWC’s shipment arrived.

“It meant a whole lot that my company was a part of the distribution,” she said. “So often things are given to larger companies, and it’s the smaller ones that can really use the help.”

Thank you to Heather for sharing her story. We’re so glad our mission and agency values of providing superior customer service show up in a myriad of ways. We’re proud to serve Ohioans every day, but especially in their greatest time of need.

Crew members of HR Construction Services in Cleveland wear face coverings provided by BWC while working on an overpass in Cleveland.

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.

In challenging times, BWC delivers

Up to $1.6 billion for employers among several measures aimed at weakening COVID-19’s impact

#InThisTogetherOhio

By Stephanie McCloud, BWC Administrator/CEO

One of our core values at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is Relentless Excellence — we are unyielding in our delivery of outstanding service to our customers.

Not just sometimes or in ordinary times, but all the time. This includes the extraordinary times we find ourselves in today given the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents to our economy and virtually every facet of our daily lives.

I hope our customers — Ohio’s injured workers and our employer community — would agree. When the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early March, Governor Mike DeWine called on his agencies, including BWC, to do all we can to support our fellow Ohioans and our business community through these unprecedented times.

We’re doing our best. Take a look.

  • We are sending our private and public employers up to $1.6 billion this month — 100% of the premium they paid in policy year 2018 — to ease COVID-19’s impact on their bottom line and our economy. We started sending checks on Monday, April 20, and should wrap up by Monday, April 27.
  • Before our Board of Directors approved our dividend April 10, we deferred premium payments for employers for March, April, and May until June 1.

“BWC will not cancel coverage or assess penalties for amounts not paid because of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted, announcing the deferment on March 21 during Governor DeWine’s daily press briefing. “Installment payments due for the three-month period are totaled at approximately $200 million, and that money will now stay in the economy.”

  • We are working with injured workers to gather the necessary medical evidence to continue benefits that were set to expire on April 30.
  • We have created a special team to handle the newly filed COVID-19 claims to provide them with careful attention.
  • We relaxed or waived deadlines for the following programs that save employers money on their premiums. We are applying the discounts automatically.

– Drug Free Safety Program.
– Grow Ohio.
– EM Cap.
– Industry Specific Safety Program.
– One Claim Program.
– Policy Activity Rebate Program.

  • When Governor DeWine and other state leaders called on all Ohioans to help shore up Ohio’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, BWC responded. Our employees across Ohio uncovered and donated hundreds of N-95 masks, safety goggles, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizers, wipes and more.
  • We have stopped pursuing collections efforts.
  • We continue to make timely payments to our medical providers.
  • We are embracing the use of telemedicine to help injured workers connect with their medical and therapy providers.
  • We continue to issue new workers’ comp policies.
  • We are temporarily waiving some annual requirements for self-insured businesses to ensure they continue operations with certificates of coverage.

Here are some other actions our state is taking to help us through this difficult time:

  • Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted have launched a new “Ohio, Find It Here” campaign to help residents support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please visit ohio.org/SupportLocalOhio.
  • The state is asking residents and businesses who can donate personal protective equipment (PPE), or any other essential service or resource, to please email Together@Governor.Ohio.Gov.
  • Ohioans can apply for unemployment benefits online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at ohio.gov. It is also possible to file by phone at 877-644-6562 or TTY at 888-642-8203, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Employers with questions should email UCTech@jfs.ohio.gov.

Clearly, business is NOT as usual in Ohio, but our work continues, and we remain committed to excellent service for our customers.

Remember — We are #InThisTogetherOhio.

For more on our programs, visit bwc.ohio.gov. For more on COVID-19 as it relates to BWC, visit this Frequently Asked Questions page. For other questions about COVID-19 related to BWC, you can email BWCCOVID19@bwc.state.oh.us.

For the latest on COVID-19 in Ohio, visit the Ohio Department of Health website coronavirus.ohio.gov, or call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.

BWC cancels Ohio Safety Congress & Expo due to Coronavirus concerns

ONLINE OPTION STILL ON

By Tony Gottschlich, Public Relations Manager

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud cancelled this week’s Ohio Safety Congress 2020 in-person event due to concerns surrounding the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“The health and safety of Ohioans remain our top concern, and we must take every precaution to protect our citizens,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud, following the direction of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and local and state health leaders and experts.

Through emails, social media, and website postings, Administrator/CEO McCloud and safety congress staff informed the 8,600 registered attendees about the cancellation, as well as BWC employees, employers, vendors and other stakeholders in the annual workplace health and safety event, BWC’s 90th this year. BWC will reimburse vendors for their booth space.

Safety congress’s new online component, however, will go on as scheduled, providing the opportunity to secure continuing education credits for professionals in the health care, human resources, safety, and legal communities.

The 8,600 who registered for the in-person event were enrolled automatically for online sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The online option includes the conference kick-off at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

If you planned to attend any of the educational sessions, please consider the online options available at Ohio Safety Congress & Expo.

Governor DeWine and BWC encourage all of you to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 information by visiting the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) website coronavirus.ohio.gov and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ODH also has a call center open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. to answer questions regarding COVID-19. The call center can be reached at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).