Opinion: Who will stand up for nurses injured on the job? Not Meg Whitman

When it comes to the treatment of nurses injured on the job, California’s nurses want Californians to know that Meg Whitman has chosen the wrong side. 

That’s why the California Nurses Association (CNA) has joined with Injured Women After Reform (iWAR) in releasing a new internet ad featuring comatose certified nurse’s assistant Amelia Mendoza, 53, of West Covina. The ad can be viewed here:

Whitman has expressed her unreserved support for state laws and regulations that produced widespread denial of medical care and inadequate permanent disability compensation. She praises a broken workers’ compensation insurance system, like her predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, that regularly denies care and disability compensation to nurses, nurses’ assistants, and thousands of others injured at work, just like Amelia Mendoza.

Sadly, Amelia is just one of thousands of Californians falling victim to ill conceived and unfair workers’ compensation reforms passed in the early days of the Schwarzenegger administration.
While doing her job at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena in 2009, Amelia was attacked twice in the same week by a mentally disturbed patient. Amelia suffered injuries that resulted in her falling into a vegetative state.

The hospital has refused to accept any responsibility for Mendoza’s injuries or provide disability compensation. It did not matter that she was a skilled, caring employee. She was now unable to do her job so her employer, Huntington Hospital, fired Mendoza for “missing work.”

Huntington Hospital sent Amelia home, in a vegetative state, without the needed professional medical care.

Instead of the insurance company paying for medical care, Amelia was left to fend for herself. She has now spent the past year homebound, cared for around the clock by her husband and adult children. Amelia could have died from the lack of professional care. After a year of her family caring for her, Amelia is now in a hospital at taxpayers’ expense — the insurance company’s costs are being borne by the taxpayers.

The failure of the workers’ compensation system and Huntington Hospital’s insurer’s refusal to pay for Amelia’s legitimate medical care is stunningly heartless.

Tragically, nurses see similar abuses regularly. Nurses and nurse’s assistants are injured lifting patients and medical equipment. They get infections from being surrounded by sick people all the time. Nursing is difficult, and for Amelia, dangerous.

Whitman has endorsed the debilitating changes Gov. Schwarzenegger made that have enriched workers’ compensation insurance companies and large corporations while depriving many Californians injured on the job of the protection and the justice they deserve.

She says the Governor’s Workers Compensation Reforms are working just fine, as she told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year: “’Arnold Schwarzenegger [has].. done a number of very good things, such as reforming workers’ compensation….’”

But it’s not working fine for California women and families. For example, the system changed the “apportionment” rules, resulting in discrimination in awarding permanent disability compensation in many instances. Women, as the ‘weaker sex,’ are often not entitled to the same disability compensation a man would receive for the same injury.

Women of color are told their injuries are caused by genetic pre-disposition, and they’re getting less, or like Amelia, nothing from the insurance companies. This must end. Schwarzenegger has allowed this discrimination to continue by refusing to sign legislation introduced to end this practice, both this year, and in 2008 (SB 145, DeSaulnier – 2010; SB 1115, Migden – 2008).

Would Meg Whitman sign this bill over the objections of insurance companies and big companies?

Amelia is not the only injured nurse, teacher, trucker or firefighter battling stacked odds and heartless insurance companies and employers. There are thousands of Californians facing the same game of deny and delay to make them go away. We need new leadership, a governor who will care about people, not just insurance companies and big corporations.

The CNA and iWAR are using Meg’s own eBay to raise money to tell Amelia’s story and the story of thousands of injured women… nurses, teachers, hotel housekeepers… all being hurt by what Meg Whitman calls a “fine” system.

What’s happening to Amelia Mendoza and other hardworking Californians may be fine with Meg Whitman, but it’s not fine with nurses. Not fine at all.

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