As scientific modeling shows a peak and flattening of the curve by mid-April, the time that it will take for the leveling out and decline will probably last until early May. That means that the exposure that medical professionals working at places like UIC, University of Chicago, Advocate, Rush, Amita, and Northwestern have had to this disease will only worsen until the cases decline substantially from where they are now. (source via NPR) This likely means that those employed in healthcare will see an even greater percentage of work injuries due to Covid-19 than many scientists first predicted. Although people in Illinois hear the news about how the efforts to slow the novel Coronavirus down are working, they are usually not aware of that the same horror stories that are seen in New York City are happening in Chicago and across Illinois. In fact, hospitals in Chicago are running short of personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers to maintain body substance isolation from infected patients. Rather than provide the necessary equipment, hospitals are putting their employees at risk of falling ill with Covid-19 by failing to provide enough masks, gowns, and face shields. Many hospitals are telling nurses to re-use masks and gowns. Without this equipment, hospital management is essentially putting their nurses, nurse’s aides, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician’s assistants, and doctors in harm’s way.
Fortunately for healthcare professionals, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule deeming essential workers including but not limited to EMT’s/ paramedics, CNA’s, RN’s, CNP’s, PA’s, technicians, therapists, and doctors as presumed to have contracted Covid-19 at work if they get a positive test. (source via WBEZ) The impact of this rule is groundbreaking to say the least because it puts pressure on an hospital to try to show how their employee did not contract Covid-19 on the job. Thus, when a sick healthcare worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 and were working for a health care provider, they will have an easier time succeeding on their case. That being said, insurance companies will not second-guess fighting any Covid-19 work comp claim that they can. Not only is it in the nature of insurance companies to fight legitimate claims, insurance companies rarely see the negative perception in instances where they try to take advantage of sick and injured people. Legal scholars predict that despite this recent rule benefiting all sick healthcare workers, insurance companies intend to fight the cases brought by healthcare workers as the court system starts to return to normal.
It is anticipated that insurance companies and their lawyers will try to minimize the suffering, harm, and damage done to healthcare workers by claiming that they have little to no permanency and thus deserve little to no award. While this may sound shameful on many levels, it also disregards the science that is out there related to the harmful long-term effects of those who survived SARS-CoV-1 and the data that is coming out from the early survivors of SARS-CoV-2. If the recent outbreak has just slightly similar long-term effects as the first outbreak, it is highly likely that our health care system will become weakened for decades. The infections from Covid are leaving various physical and mental health damages. Primarily, we know the lung scarring and diminished lung capacity is the most concerning part of the body that is being widely impacted. Furthermore, it is thought that besides lung issues, infected persons can suffer from bone and joint issues. In particular, we may see necrosis of the hip. (source via Nature) What is also alarming is that along with decreased lung function, diminished cardiac function is also likely. Many people dying of Covid-19 are dying from cardiac arrest and heart failure. Heart disease from Covid-19 is unfortunately expected to become rampant. (source via Nature) Even for those healthcare workers who have milder cases, they can expect to see themselves and many of their colleagues develop impaired endurance and chronic fatigue. (sources via National Center for Biotechnology and Journale of American Medical Association Network)
While many of these physical ailments are compensable workers’ compensation injuries for which any healthcare worker may recover lost wages, disability checks, paid medical care, and an award or settlement for their permanent injuries, most people will tend to overlook the level of cognitive and mental health injuries from becoming sick on the job. First, most people with Covid infections describe a general fogginess and difficulty processing information. While we hope that these symptoms have no relationship with permanent long-term cognition, many researchers are not so optimistic. Further, many people suffering from Covid experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The sheer magnitude of these mental health aspects of this disease are going to jeopardize many careers in health care. Fortunately, Illinois’ workers’ compensation laws protect the future loss of earnings that result from being injured at work.
Katz Friedman is currently representing many injured healthcare employees in work accident cases against their employers and will continue to investigate claims being made by any health care worker for all injuries whether it takes place from lifting, slipping and falling, or contracting Covid-19. When making decisions regarding a work injury sustained while working as a health professional, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the hospital or clinic already has their lawyers working on it. If you or someone you know works in health care and suffers from Covid-19, the attorneys and staff at Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.