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Pain and Payments: Workers' comp at criminal youth centers

May 24, 2017 07:01 PM

As NewsChannel 13's Waste Watchers Investigation into juvenile centers continues, new documents show how many Office of Children and Family Services workers are hurt and out of work.  

OCFS oversees the centers where criminal teenagers serve sentences for their crimes. Many employees have reached out to us about what they say are dangerous working conditions after our initial story.  

The documents obtained using Freedom of Information Law, show agency-wide there are 119 employees on workers' compensation.  

Approximately four percent of OCFS staff is out, and Capital Region CSEA President Ron Briggs has a problem with that.

"I think it's too high and I think we need to continue to work really diligently with OCFS to put in measures to stop it from being that high and reduce it," said Briggs.  

Out of the 119 employees on worker's comp, the average employee has been out for 194 days, and their average salary before overtime is $51,000 a year.  

The employees are being paid through the state's workers' compensation insurance fund, the state reimburses the fund for what it pays to the injured workers.

So how much is it costing the taxpayer? That's unclear. NewsChannel 13 filed Freedom of Information requests, but haven't received a response yet.  

Each settlement is different, but the most someone can be paid on workers' comp is $864 a week.

That means the most the state could be paying is $102,000 a week, plus medical expenses. That's $5.3 million a year to workers, not working.  The cost also depends on how long workers are on workers' comp.

What's costly for the state is costly for the worker.

"We have members who are used to living on their salary, and now they're getting a part of their salary and have to continue their family life," said Briggs.

Briggs says injuries also contributed to staffing issues he complained about in our earlier story. OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole told us last month, there was enough staffing and it is a safe place to work.  

Documents show eight are on paid administrative leave.

It is important to note, the workers' compensation numbers are agency-wide and job titles were not provided. We asked OCFS to give us the titles and let us know how many more minor injuries occurred on the job, the press team told us to file another freedom of information request.

We did, getting that info could take months. There will be an update when we receive it.

NewsChannel 13 asked OCFS for an interview on May 3. The press team got back to us Wednesday afternoon, saying workers' compensation numbers are down over the years. The short email did not provide actual numbers.  The statement is below:

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"The number of juvenile-facility employees on workers’ compensation, which has been declining over the years, continues to represent a small percentage of the dedicated OCFS workforce.  Any injury to staff is one too many, and OCFS works diligently to not only investigate any incident, but also to conduct intensive and repeated trainings to keep our staff safe."

In addition to emails about poor working conditions, we received calls about the positive educational opportunities Brookwood Secure Center provides. NewsChannel 13 has a request in to OCFS to see the facility first hand in able to learn more. 

Credits

WNYT Staff

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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