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FCN Investigates: COJ Playing Favorites, Spending Thousands on Workers' Comp Docs?

7:52 AM, Feb 12, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Rusty Butler spent more than two decades as a firefighter for the city of Jacksonville until, injured on the job, he had to retire.

For seven years, the city of Jacksonville covered his medical bills. Then all of sudden it stopped.

For the last seven years, he has had to fight for his workers' compensation benefits.  "Just a waste of taxpayer money," said Butler.

His battle, so far, has cost the city more than $93,000 in attorney's fees alone, and now the city is paying his benefits.

But court fees are not the only thing city taxpayer money is finding. According to court records, the city is paying for the mileage of injured workers, like Butler, to go see doctors outside of Jacksonville.

"The city wanted me to go to Orlando to get checked out by a doctor for a physical down there," said Butler.

Because the city refused to comment on camera, an email was sent questioning why injured city employees were being sent out of town to see doctors.

The city's response referred to state law noting that medical benefits be delivered in a, "quick and efficient" way to the worker.

"To me it's an incredible waste, and why they are sending them there if it's not for a huge savings, I don't know, unless they have think that they can have some influence over the doctor and his decisions," Butler's attorney, Jake Schickel said.

"I would certainly hope they can't, but if they can't then why send them there because we have great doctors here in Jacksonville."

Schickel said not all cases go out of town. In fact, some say the doctors being used in Jacksonville raise another concern with the workers' compensation program.

"There are literally pages of doctors, good qualified orthopedic surgeons right here in Duval County and yet the same ones keep coming up again and again," said attorney Marc Hardesty.

Schickel agreed.  "Any injured employee that has an orthopedic injury is referred to (orthopedic specialists) initially," said Schickel.
 
Two brothers, Chaim and Abraham Rogozinski, pop up in numerous court records. Back in November, we sent a public records request to the city with nine doctors' names on it, including the Rogozinskis.

All nine doctors were either cardiologists or orthopedic specialists. All the doctors are listed in the city's provider directory from 2009.

We wanted to know how much money all nine doctors were paid over the last three years. According to the city, there was no record for three doctors receiving money, while others received a couple hundred dollars.

Cardiologist Dr. Lawrence Kanter was paid more than $304,000 in the last three years. While the Rogozinskis were paid more than $1.3 million in three years, by the city of Jacksonville.

"Any place where you have one person getting substantial amount of business than anyone else, it can create potential conflicts," said Schickel.

When we asked the city why the Rogozinskis were paid more than other doctors, the response was again pointing to the state law to provide "quick and efficient" care to the worker.

According to a court record, last year a judge overturned a workers' comp denial. One of the notes the judge made was Dr. Chaim Rogozinski sided with the city to deny coverage without even looking at the worker's medical records.

When we questioned the city about using a doctor who did not review a case record to make a decision, it's response once again was the state law to provide "quick and efficient" care.

We tried talking with the Rogozinskis. Numerous calls were made to their homes and office. The calls were not returned.
When we stopped by their orthopedic clinic, we were told they were not available.

"I was at a deposition recently which the doctor spoke with the city attorney afterwards and said, 'ever since I first saw and diagnosed this patient's condition which was not what the city wanted to hear, I haven't gotten anymore cases from the city.  Are y'all trying to send me a message?'," said Schickel. "Well, there was no answer, but the answer was very clear."

According to a court record, one doctor testified the city had a "pattern" and "....bombarded him with calls and letters...regarding injured City of Jacksonville employees...in an attempt to stop these injured workers from getting further medical care.....at the city of Jacksonville's expense."

The doctor also said the city, "...wanted him to say his treatment was unnecessary."

"Once they get you to the workers' comp doctor, the one the city uses, that seems to be where the total change of mentality is.  No, there's no disability issue here. It's not job related. You're denied," said Randy Wyse, the president of the local fire union.

Wyse said the battle for benefits has gotten so bad some of his firefighters choose not to fight and pay for their injuries on their own insurance coverage.

"It's not like these guys are trying to get off and get these huge settlements out of workers comp.  They just want their medicine paid for and allowed to go back to work," said Wyse.

He said the workers compensation battles concern him. "I've said it many times, the last thing you want is a firefighter standing on the porch of a house and hearing somebody in that house that's on fire screaming for help and have to pause a second and go 'if I get hurt am I gonna be covered?'," said Wyse. "That's the last thing you want. If a firefighter does that, we are in serious trouble in this city."

MORE: The city's response

MORE: THE $362,000 ESTIMATEGRID FOR HEART AND LUNG APPEALS/DENIALSCITY'S QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

WANT TO SOUND OFF?:

 Click here to email Mayor John Peyton and head of Department of Risk Management Charles Spencer

 Click here to email the presidents of the Jacksonville Firefighters Association and Fraternal Order of Police

Click here to email the city council

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