(c) 2016 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Groundbreaking Measure Gives Female First Responders Equal Protection

 The California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA), whose members represent Californians hurt at work, and the California Nurses Association’s (C.N.A.) measure to eliminate gender bias against female first responders in California workers’ compensation insurance passed the Assembly today by a vote of 46 - 23. AB 2616 goes now to the governor for action. AB 2616 (Skinner) is the first measure passed by the Legislature to extend any of the fifteen existing presumptions that male first responders enjoy to first responder occupations dominated by women. “California recognizes that some jobs are so inherently dangerous that those workers should not have to prove that certain injuries were job related,” said CAAA Women’s Caucus Co-Chair Christel Schoenfelder. “First responders like firefighters and police officers who are required to protect the public are presumed to be injured on the job when they get cancer or an infectious disease. There is one group of first responders who do not receive this protection from dangerous conditions. These are hospital employees, 80% of whom are female. Like police officers and firefighters, they are routinely exposed to conditions that can lead to major health problems.” AB 2616 intends to correct this gender imbalance by extending a presumption covering MRSA skin infections to hospital employees who provide direct patient care. MRSA infections are a major health problem in hospitals around the world.
“Nurses and other hospital employees are required to assume great risk, but unlike public safety officers we are not given the same legal protections when we get sick on the job,” said Redding Registered Nurse Kathryn Donahue in a statement urging the governor to sign AB 2616. “MRSA is a virulent antibiotic-resistant staph infection. It’s a job hazard for nurses providing direct patient care in acute care hospitals. MRSA can kill you. Just like police officers and firefighters, nurses put our lives on the line everyday. We don’t know if the patient we are treating has HIV, or MRSA, that we could be exposed to. We just do our job.”

“Assembly member Skinner deserves credit for doggedly pursuing this bill year after year and finally succeeding in her final year,” said Schoenfelder. “Thanks must also go to C.N.A. for making this a priority.”
One out of every six deaths in the US can be attributed to an infection acquired in a hospital. A first responder has an obligation to perform their duties in an emergency. Female workers are often forced to testify to personal details of their lives in an effort by insurance companies to deny claims. As female workers experience this, it has a chilling effect on the willingness of other female workers to come forth with their claims.
“If nurses or other hospital workers who provide direct patient care get MRSA, we have to prove that it didn’t come from any place but our work,” said Donahue. “That’s an almost impossible burden to meet. It exposes nurses to invasive questioning about our personal lives – even our sexual lives – by insurers’ defense attorneys trying to defeat our claims for medical care and disability compensation.”
Schoenfelder said, “The lack of equal protection for health care workers is, in part, due to gender inequity. Public safety first responders are a predominantly male workforce, but hospital employees providing patient care are a predominantly female workforce. The Labor Code currently provides 15 categories of presumptions for various first responders, and all of them are for male dominated workforces. There is not one presumption for first responders like nurses, which is primarily a female workforce. AB 2616 intends to address this gender imbalance by extending equal protection to female-dominated hospital first responder jobs.”
For more information on AB 2616 Support including a video from a Registered Nurse and an applicant’s attorney perspectives can be viewed here.