Essential but not expendable

Lincoln Hospital COVID-19 Vigil, April 2020

Delita Glori-Feri, a critical care nurse at Montefiore Medical Center, became infected with COVID-19 while caring for her patients last year. Like many NYSNA members, she became severely ill. In fact, she nearly died. For months she was too ill to work and applied for workers’ compensation to cover her medical expenses and lost work time. “I did all the things I was supposed to do to claim workers’ comp,” Ms. Glori-Feri stated, “but a year later, I have still not seen a penny.”

Montefiore initially denied her claim. Then, armed with an attorney, she went to a NYS Workers’ Compensation Board (NYSWCB) hearing where a determination was made that she did, in fact, have a legitimate case and was awarded workers’ compensation benefits. Montefiore’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier has appealed this ruling and still is not paying up.

Sadly, nurse Glori-Feri’s frustration in getting the benefits she is entitled too is all too common. A recent report, authored by NYSWCB attorney Robert Grey, estimates that approximately 250,000 workers in NYS got COVID-19 on the job, but only 21,000 of them applied for workers’ compensation. And of that 21,000, only 1,000 have received a hearing. According to Grey, this dramatic difference in numbers “points to the fact that there are serious flaws in the system that must be addressed for it to be even arguably a meaningful remedy for workplace injuries and illnesses.”

Difficult to access benefits

Both Glori-Feri, RN, and NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN spoke at a recent press conference about the extreme difficulty of accessing workers’ compensation benefits in NYS and, along with other unions, politicians and injured worker advocates, demanded policy changes including:

  • The presumption that essential workers who become infected with COVID-19 were exposed on the job and, therefore, are entitled to workers’ compensation (S. 1241)
  • Improved outreach by the NYSWCB to help workers understand how to apply for workers’ compensation and understand their rights
  • A right to a NYSWCB hearing for every case
  • Expanded language access (S. 1721)
  • Better protection against retaliation

As Glori-Feri so succinctly states, “I am essential, but I am NOT expendable.” NYSNA will continue to fight for New York’s essential workers to get the protections they need and the benefits to which they are entitled. For more information, look for updates and resources on the NYSNA website.

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