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Corruption Privatized...Baltimore's in it deep!
October 11, 2016        Brian Vaeth 
 The Baltimore Brew recently published an article stating that injury claims by employees cost Baltimore $39 million last year and that police and other workers filed a record number of claims. While a significant increase in those claims were a result of the uprising Baltimore experienced after the in custody death of Freddie Gray, a situation that the Mayor and the Police Commissioner caused, the economic costs of injuries to public servants while in the performance of their duties has always been of particular concern for the City. According to the article and data compiled by City Auditor Robert L. McCarty Jr., the police, fire, public works departments, and the school system are named as agencies representing a significant number of those claims, or 90% of the money paid to injured workers. The police department paid out $16.6 Million, or just below half of the total amount paid out for all claims in 2015.   
As I have a bit of experience dealing with the City about injuries in the Line of Duty suffered by firefighters, I will try to go where the Brew couldn't and offer a little more to this story. This shouldn’t reflect anything negative on them for this. I mean, they can only report on what is reported to them. There is much that the City doesn’t tell anybody and when they try to vilify members of fire department, I try to stand up for the brotherhood. The City tries to make them look like the bad guys and make you believe that they are cashing in on injury settlements. I can tell you, they are not.
I was a firefighter for the City of Baltimore for 13 years until I suffered a serious injury in the Line of Duty. I was encouraged to file a Workers Compensation Claim by officials and the Manual of Procedures for the Baltimore City Fire Department detailed the actions necessary for an injured firefighter or EMS personnel to file these claims. The fire department requires that all injuries suffered, both on the job and while off duty, are reported due to the fact that they may impair your ability to perform your duties and an adjustment to the workforce will be necessary. This means making sure someone is there to fill your slot in the event that you are not available because you’ve been placed off duty by department doctors. This rule is strictly enforced. When an injury report is filed, a bunch of other reports get filed and the fire department doctors decide whether or not you can return to duty. If they determine that you cannot, a deputy chief orders you to file an application for disability retirement benefits with the F&PERS 90 days before your retirement date. When this happens, you have no other choice. For the past 15 years, beginning with former Mayor Martin O'Malley and continuing to this day, this process has been used to discriminate and retaliate against injured firefighters for filing these claims.  This occurred to me and despite suffering the injury in the Line of Duty I was denied of the disability pension, I lost my job, health benefits, and retirement all in one shot. In order to accomplish this, the City had to commit fraud and that fraud conitues today.

Newspaper articles that were published in the Baltimore Sun demonstrates the true motive and the intent of then Mayor of Baltimore City Martin O’Malley to “crackdown” on the abuse of injury leave time, or “A” time, by City employees. The Mayor began what was called the “Return to Work” initiative and it resulted in a 30 to 60% decline in “A” time abuses. City employees’ injuries were being investigated and for the first time, in 2000, they began keeping detailed statistics on “A” time in each City department. Those numbers were then fed into Citi-Stat, the City’s new computerized statistics tracking system that was guiding Mayor O’Malley’s efforts to make City government more efficient. footnote [1]  These injuries became a statistic that was to be eliminated.

On August 15, 2002, the Baltimore Sun reported that in a continuing push to privatize City services, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates hired a hospital and a management company yesterday (8-14-2002) to examine City Workers’ Compensation Claims. The contracts were awarded to Mercy Medical Center to operate the Public Safety Infirmary for $2 million dollars, and to Comp Management for $4 million dollars. These two companies had already been operating these services on behalf of the City long before 2002.  The idea for privatizing the clinic stemmed from a May 2001 study by the Greater Baltimore Committee that highlighted the money paid to injured workers. A comment in the article from a Union official that represents City and State employees stated that, “It doesn’t take a genius to know that private companies will make medical decisions based on the bottom line.” City officials said that the deals would save the City money in large part because the contractors will do a better job of detecting fraud and getting injured employees back to work. These companies had an interest in reducing the numbers of suspected “A” time abusers, as they had to demonstrate that they could be successful at the objective of the Mayors “Return to Work” initiative before the City would award those companies contracts to perform those services in 2002. footnote   [2]

Another report by the Baltimore Sun on December 17, 2002, that Comp Management made a mistake that created pay delays for City employees who were receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits. An AFSCME (American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees) said that his office received hundreds of complaints about missing checks, workers being forced back to work before they are treated and other problems since Comp Management and PSI were hired to save money. Mercy Hospital received $2 million dollars and Comp Management received $4 million dollars for those contracts as part of a plan to cut 42 City employees and close a City run health clinic for employees. The deal has been a nightmare, according to a City official. Mayor Martin O’Malley stated that, “These sort of growing pains and operational glitches are inevitable whenever you make a change. We will resolve the issues.” footnote [3] The Brew's article clearly demonstrates that those issues were not resolved.

Soon after he took office, former Mayor Martin O’Malley’s Chief of Staff, Michael Enright, made a surprise visit to the office that handled workers' compensation claims for city and school employees. He reported that, “Most of the workers were missing, at lunch Michael R. Enright was told, although the hour was 2 p.m. There was paper everywhere, Enright said, piled on desks and crammed into shelves, defying any organized filing system. And near the entrance hung a picture of the Mayor, former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, that is.” footnote [4] Essential documents relating to active injuries were in the custody of that office, because the claim was still open and the remainder of the closed file was in the custody of Comp Management for management of employee injury related incidents. This lack of supervisory control of the chain of custody of these records caused this information to be withheld from hearing examiners and subsequently caused misconduct to be perpetrated on the Court, as incomplete medical records were introduced as evidence. The City Solicitor’s Office, in concert with the F&PERS, sought to conceal this information rather than comply with the law regarding the submission of evidence and perpetrated a fraud on the court to cover up their incompetence. Had the City Solicitor complied with the law, as an officer of the court is required to, this unlawful concealment would not have occurred. Actions such as these have caused many members of the F&PERS to suffer the same fate as I did.

Now, the Baltimore City Inspector General has identified that a “large volume of new cases” involving false applications for workers’ compensation and disability retirement in the Police and Fire departments have been filed and he has added an agent to work with the F&PERS to eliminate the fraud. That is all fine and good but what happens when the F&PERS, along with their counsel the Baltimoe City Solicitor, commits their fraud on the members? Who investigates that? I have filed complaints with the Inspector General that detailed that fraud but he refused to investigate it. Could it be because the allegations of fraud and perjury are alleged against his boss, the City Soicitor? I've filed complaints with every agency you can imagine and all but one of those complaints have been investigated. I just had to take out the allegations against their lawyer first before they accepted it. That was completed by the Mayor's Office, however, the City Solicitor put a stop to her efforts due to pending litigation on the matter. The findings of that investigation were very much in my favor.

Since the filing of my latest complaint before the City Council related to the allegations of fraud aforementioned, the Baltimore City Solicitor has been fired and the Inspector General resigned from service. I am not asserting that my actions had anything to do with them being removed but if the City of Baltimore had taken my complaints seriously in the past, maybe these bad apples would have been removed long before this and not cost us so much money in legal fees associated with public misconduct. and malfeasance. An Associated Press review of hundreds of court records nationwide revealed patterns of similar misconduct and unethical behavior involving municipal attorneys in New York, Denver, as well as Baltimore that are very similar to the allegations contained in complaints that I have filed in the past over this very issue. The review found that these lawyers deliberately hid important facts, delayed their disclosure or otherwise sought to subvert evidence in civil cases and suggests that municipal lawyers, who are paid with tax dollars and represent city employees in noncriminal matters rarely attract public attention because they operate far behind the scrutiny of elected leaders, therefore being not susceptible to accountability. Other attorneys contend that for every city lawyer chastised for unethical practices, many others go undetected. "We have to fight for everything we get," said A. Dwight Pettit, a civil rights attorney in Baltimore, referring to the challenge of obtaining evidence from city lawyers. I have asked for the results of investigations that were conducted in the past by City officials and the only one that I have is that of the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services and proves the City's practices are unethical, illegal, and runs counter to the objectives set forth in the Baltimore City Code that provides for maintaining the public trust and avoiding the appearance of impropriety demonstrated by our elected and appointed officials.

My point is every time the City is strapped for cash the first agency that takes the hit with the budget axe is the fire department. Reports then come out like this one and others that attack their pensions, as being lucrative or they somehow lead to their ability to amass tremendous wealth upon their retirement to justify slashing their funding. Firefighters, along with other first responders, put their lives on the line to protect the citizens of Baltimore City every day. Timely and responsibly meeting the medical and basic living expenses of firefighters who are determined to be disabled, as a result of being injured in the Line of Duty, is not just a legal obligation but a moral one. As such, an injury should not result in medical conditions worsened by delay and denial of necessary benefits, nor should it leave the member, or their family, financially destitute and emotionally battered. Those entrusted with maintaining the medical files related to injuries suffered in the performance of a firefighter’s duties have a clear responsibility to do so. In no way should the failure of officials within the City of Baltimore to properly maintain and submit the complete medical files of injured members create obstacles bound to worsen the physical and financial conditions of members of the department who have suffered debilitating injuries. Instead of carrying out these duties consistent with their legal and moral obligations, City officials routinely and improperly forward legally inconsistent arguments, withhold relevant evidence that they have in their possession, and fabricates evidence that they don’t have to unlawfully obtain a ruling that is favorable to them, all in an effort to wrongfully deny what is ultimately the City of Baltimore’s obligation under the law.

[1] Baltimore Sun Newspaper Article “City Aching Over Abuse of Paid Medical Leaves” Neal Thompson  2/25/2001
[2] Baltimore Sun Newspaper Article “Health Services to be Privatized” Laura Vozzella  8/15/2002
[3] Baltimore Sun Newspaper Article “Company’s Mistake Creates Pay Delays for City Workers” Tom Pelton 12/17/2002
[4] Baltimore Sun Newspaper Article “Workers’ Comp Reform Pays Off” Laura Vozzella 1/25/2005