The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to approve a revised “Health and Safety Continuity Infectious Disease Control Guidance Policy.” During the August 24, 2021 meeting, commissioners added that Hernando County Fire / Rescue (HCFR) employees will have an additional 96 hours of Administrative Paid Time Off (PTO) in the case that they will need time off without having enough PTO hours accrued.
The special exception for HCFR is directly related to the close proximity and enclosed space in which Fire Medics (Hernando County’s title for Paramedics) treat patients who are potentially COVID-19 positive, thereby increasing the risk of infection and illness.
Michelle Posewitz, Human Resources and Risk Director for the county presented the policy with changes from 2020. Unique challenges that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic are addressed within the policy. Mitigation practices for all county employees such as remote work, staying home during illness, and maintaining social distancing became part of the policy in response to infectious diseases.
However, it is not possible for HCFR employees to work from home or distance themselves from their patients. The question then becomes who will pay for an employee’s absence from work; Workers Compensation insurance, or the county’s PTO fund?
Logic suggests that Fire Medics are more likely to contract an infectious disease while treating patients, however, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint how or when an individual contracts an illness such as COVID-19. County Attorney Garth Coller stated that the decision would ultimately be determined by Workers Compensation.
According to Sean Moulton of the Firefighter’s Union, roughly 38% of the Hernando County Fire / Rescue (HCFR) have had COVID-19 due to close contact with infected patients in ambulances, increased transport times, and increased wait times when arriving at overloaded emergency rooms.
Even with personal protective equipment (PPE), “The opportunity is higher for our folks to get this — 38% [nationwide] vs 12-15% [for the general public],” said Moulton.