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The family of a Lebanon, Mo., police officer who died of COVID-19 has been denied workers’ compensation, city officials said.
Officer Kendle Blackburn died Dec. 28 after a long battle with the virus. A release from Gov. Mike Parson’s office at the time said Blackburn contracted the virus while on duty in November.
Lebanon officials were told last week that the city’s workers’ compensation insurance provider, Missouri Employers Mutual, determined Blackburn’s COVID-19 exposure and death “is not compensable under workers’ compensation,” The Springfield News-Leader reported.
Police Chief Byran Arnold said the decision seems to violate an emergency rule Parson signed in April last year that allows first responders to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or if they are quarantined because of it.
The rule assumes the first responder contracted the virus while on duty. Previously, employees were required to prove they got sick or injured while at work.
Arnold also cited the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act, signed by former President Donald Trump in August, as another guarantee that first responders are protected if they contract COVID-19.
“COVID-19 was spreading throughout the community, but (Blackburn) was out there doing his duty every day,” Arnold said. “Personally, I am very disappointed in that decision. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Revee White, director of marketing for Missouri Employers Mutual, said she could not comment on individual claims. She said the company is using the same claims management approach to address the coronavirus as it has used for decades.
Nearly all virus-related claims received by the company have been compensated “unless the COVID test was negative, the person was not a first responder or there was clear and convincing evidence of exposure outside of work,” she said.
White said Missouri’s “presumption order” does not mean all first responder claims must be automatically accepted and the company has an obligation to investigate each claim.
Lebanon Mayor Jared Carr and state Rep. Jeff Knight, who represents Lebanon, both said Missouri Employers Mutual should reverse the decision. Lebanon officials said they would continue working to ensure Blackburn’s family receives compensation.
State health officials reported 13 new COVID-19 related deaths on March 2, bringing the state total to 7,932 since the pandemic began. Another 266 confirmed cases were reported, for a total of 478,482.