Texas refused benefits for prison employee who died from virus, family reveals

A family in Texas City claims their loved one passed of COVID-19 contracted at work but has not been issued benefits.

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The family of Elizabeth Ann Jones claims after she died of COVID-19 her employer has refused to issue benefits.

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According to KHOU 11, the family believes the 58-year-old contracted the coronavirus at work. Jones was employed as a correctional officer at the Carole S. Young Medical Facility in Dickinson, Texas.

The Texas Criminal Justice Directory listed the institution as an all-female facility with 302 total employees. Her sister Sandra Hightower told the outlet the state denied her family benefits that first responders get that can be up to $500K, plus funeral and wage benefits. She believes Jones caught it from an inmate she had close contact with who tested positive.

“She was afraid of getting it, and she knew that she was in a position that she was most likely to get it,” said Hightower, according to the report. “It took her about two weeks. From when she died to when she caught it — two weeks.”

COVID-19 has been a problem for Texas prison systems. As theGrio reported, 80% of inmates in the Lone Star State who died of the virus were in pre-trial detention and had not yet been convicted of a crime. According to the report, at least 231 people in prison there have died of the COVID-19, not accounting for inmates who had preexisting conditions or other prisoners may have died without ever having been tested for coronavirus. 58% of the inmates were eligible for parole. 

As far as employees, KHOU 11 reports that 23 correctional officers have died of coronavirus. The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) said Jones’ family is not the only one who has been declined their due state benefits.

“It needs to be ruled a presumptive death. The family doesn’t have to wait around. And especially the burden of proof, doesn’t need to be put back on the grieving family,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT, according to the report.

Proving the disease was contracted at work is the hard part. The Department of Criminal Justice says all COVID-19 deaths are reported as being in the line of duty but the Office of Risk Management has to determine if coronavirus was on the job. Without this determination, families do not receive benefits, KHOU 11 reported.

“Then we’re going to be asking family members to go back and somehow prove, ‘Was I at this call? Was it this arrest? Was it this interaction on this street corner?’” Wilkison said. “That threshold is going to be impossible to achieve.”  

CLEAT says it is working with politicians to change legislature to include coronavirus in laws that allow first responders to get workers’ compensation benefits for “respiratory illnesses.” 

“Lt. Governor Dan Patrick absolutely supports workers’ compensation coverage for all law enforcement and first responders who contract COVID-19, including our correctional officers and he will make it a top priority in the next legislative session to make sure they are covered now and retroactively,” Patrick’s office said in a statement to KHOU 11.

Read More: Texas becomes 1st state to surpass 1 million COVID-19 cases

Texas continues to have widespread cases of coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the state alone, 75,858 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the past 7 days. As theGrio reported, Texas became the first state to pass one million cases on Nov. 11.

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