We conclude our series of reports this week on why many of the San Bernardino County employees who survived the 2015 terror attack at the Inland Regional Center have been further traumatized by a years-long battle with San Bernardino County government for disability compensation. San Bernardino County has repeatedly denied many of its employees’ compensation claims for physical, psychological and emotional injuries, even when they have been ordered by medical professionals. In the final segment in our series, reporter Benjamin Purper speaks to politicians trying - or not - to address the issue.
Eloise Reyes is a State Assemblymember and former workers’ comp attorney whose district includes San Bernardino. As her first act of public office in 2016, she introduced a bill called AB44 that would have waived the utilization review process for victims of a domestic terror attack.
Reyes: “As a workers comp attorney, I know how utilization review has been used and abused. And I think that our survivors' stories clearly showed that they were not getting the treatment they needed to get better. When the county said that their hands were tied because of the way utilization review was written, because of the way workers' comp laws were written, I knew that it had to be addressed.”
But when AB44 went to the Assembly Insurance Committee, the language on utilization review was unceremoniously removed from the bill. I asked Assemblymember Reyes to describe what happened.
Reyes: “You want me to describe my heartbreak? That was such an important part of the bill, and when it went to the insurance committee, they gutted my bill and presented a bill that was completely different than what I had proposed.”
That gutting was presumably done by Assemblymember Tom Daly, the chair of the Insurance Committee. Daly wouldn’t comment to KVCR on why utilization review was taken out of the bill, but doing so removed its most important feature.
Instead of waiving utilization review, the new AB44 only required that a nurse case manager be assigned to employees who are injured on the job by an act of domestic terrorism. It passed the insurance committee, and then it passed the Assembly as a whole - Reyes voted yes.
But she still feels that the survivors deserve better than the delays and denials they’ve had to face.
Reyes: “The truth is that it's unconscionable. We've heard this said many times, they were victims not only on December 2, but they were victimized over and over by the county, that they had given their life to as employees. That's, that was their family. They considered the county their family. And to have that kind of treatment denied was unconscionable.”
But there is another legislative body that could take action on this issue.
That would be the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. Supervisors Robert Lovingood, Janice Rutherford, Curt Hagman, and Josie Gonzales declined multiple requests for interviews on the subject.
Supervisor James Ramos was the only one willing to speak with us.
Ramos: “You know I'm not going to really get into that, because... you know the people have gone through a lot.”
However, the Supervisor declined to comment on whether or not he thinks the survivors have been well treated by the county’s workman comp system. He said that the issue has become too politicized.
Ramos: “I don't really want to politicize what happened there as far as moving forward in those areas.”
But Ramos did say he has an open door policy with the survivors to address any concerns they might have.
Ramos: “I've always had an open door policy with those that were there, I've always been to keep an open door policy for them. And again I'm here, I've been able to talk to many of those that are there, we continue to try to be that voice. You know, I'm not going to talk about, to either politicize or do these things - do they genuinely need to be remembered 365 days a year? Yes."
Valerie Weber, one of the most severely injured of the living survivors, confirmed that she did speak to Supervisor Ramos once over the phone. However, she also said she sent multiple emails to the Supervisor in 2016 that she says were ignored.
It’s now almost been almost three years since the attack. And Robert Fredericks, the insurance specialist turned survivor advocate, is not optimistic that survivors will ever receive adequate care for their PTSD.
Fredericks: “We are now much too far out, over two years now, with nothing being done separately.”
Fredericks still plans to continue advocating for the survivors. But he says it’s an uphill battle.
Fredericks: “And so one could wish, but my experience the last two years, I don’t think that we can be so optimistic and so we’re left with an unresolved tragedy.”