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Executive Council to hear injured health-care workers' payment requests

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 23. 2017 9:22PM

CONCORD — The Governor and Executive Council on Wednesday will be asked to approve pay requests for four health care workers injured at state-run treatment facilities in September, the third round of such applications in the past three months.

The council in August approved five requests on behalf of state employees injured at New Hampshire Hospital or the Sununu Youth Services Center, and a single request in September.

On Wednesday, the council will hear four new cases. The council vote is necessary to ensure that the employees don’t lose any annual time off or sick days for the time lost, and that they remain on active payroll during their recovery.

Jacqueline Harzmovitch, a mental health worker at the Division of Developmental Services facility in Laconia, was assaulted on Sept. 10 by a patient who slammed her head against a wall. She still has not returned to work

Bonita Beaudet, a mental health worker at the state-run Laconia Receiving Facility, was assaulted on Sept. 10 by a patient who kicked her while resisting restraining efforts, and is still out of work.

Karen Lovejoy, a registered nurse at New Hampshire Hospital, was elbowed in the neck by a patient on Aug. 31 and has been out of work since then.

Keith King, a youth counselor, was injured on Sept. 14. He was assaulted by a resident at the Sununu Youth Services Center who was resisting while being moved from the floor to a bed. King was not able to return to work until Sept. 19.

Legislation coming

The recent spate of injury reports and publicity surrounding them is prompting legislative action on at least two fronts.

As previously reported nurse June Garen of Gilmanton approached her state senator, Jim Gray, R-Rochester, about possible legislation after she was assaulted in June by a patient who punched her in the head, neck, chest and back.

Gray is working with stakeholders on a bill that could lead to better reporting and tracking of such incidents, along with requirements for violence prevention planning and training.

State Rep. Mark MacKenzie, D-Manchester, is drafting legislation that would require timely reporting of such injuries to the N.H. Department of Labor, which would have to conduct a follow-up investigation.

And like Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Union, MacKenzie believes the names of state employees injured on the job should be protected from disclosure, as is the case for injured workers in the private sector.

Expanded definition

Existing state law requires employers to report serious on-the-job injuries within 24 hours, and requires the labor commissioner to conduct a timely investigation. MacKenzie, a former Manchester firefighter who led the state AFL-CIO from 1990-2015, would like to see the definition of injuries expanded to include workplace violence.

In the legislation MacKenzie is drafting, workplace violence would also include abusive behavior, intimidation, harassment and threats.

“There is a person we have been talking to through the AFL-CIO who has been involved in this and more recently other people have come forward to tell me this is not an unusual occurrence, especially at the mental health facilities,” said MacKenzie, who is considering a run for U.S. Congress in the First District.

“The question I’m attempting to answer in this legislation, and I hope we can flush it out, is where are these instances reported and how is it handled for state employees,” said MacKenzie.

No disclosure

In order to protect injured workers from being barraged by attorney solicitations, the state has a law on the books exempting their identities from disclosure through Right to Know requests or any other means.

MacKenzie doesn’t understand why the same protections don’t apply to state employees injured at state-run health care facilities, and hopes to address that inconsistency in legislation as well.

“There is a conflict between the law that protects worker information and the practice of Health and Human Services, which is to expose that information to the Executive Council,” he said. “I understand the funding issue, but there has to be some change there so people can remain anonymous. They don’t want it splattered all over the newspaper that they’ve been injured, and the nature of their injuries.”

Kenney suggested as much to DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers at the September council meeting, and Meyers said he’d be willing to look into a legislative solution.

“I’d be happy to work with him on that,” said MacKenzie.

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