By now, Karen Freeto is accustomed to the “blanket letters” from CorVel Corp.
The California firm handles the workers’ compensation claim for her husband, Dwayne Freeto, a Fort Worth police officer killed by a drunk driver in 2006. CorVel’s letters are always addressed to Dwayne as if he were still alive.
Last Thursday, Karen opened her mail to a new twist: In a letter notifying Dwayne his claim would soon be transferred, CorVel representative Marilyn Miller wrote, “We wish you a speedy recovery.”
By Tuesday evening, CorVel had issued a statement that says in part:
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“CorVel acknowledges its mistake in sending their families notification of the transition of workers’ compensation claims handling to a new third-party administrator with wishes of a speedy recovery.”
The letter was a “prime example” why the city of Fort Worth is switching from CorVel, its workers’ compensation administrator since 2013, to York Risk Services Group, said Sgt. Rick Van Houten, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
“A speedy recovery from death?” Van Houten said. “That was a bit much.”
Teresa Nava-Salazar, the wife of officer Henry “Hank” Nava, who was killed in the line of duty in 2005, received the same letter as Freeto, also signed by Miller.
“My [19-year-old] daughter posted to her Facebook: ‘If only it was just a speedy recovery,’ ” Nava-Salazar said. “We all wish that.”
My [19-year-old] daughter posted to her Facebook: ‘If only it was just a speedy recovery.’ We all wish that.
Teresa Nava, wife of slain officer who received letter from CorVel Corp.
Said Freeto: “How do they not know the difference between their death claims or injury claims? That’s what you do. How can you have just one form letter?”
The CorVel statement continues:
“This letter was sent to all City of Fort Worth workers’ compensation claimants. And, while drafters of the letter believed this last sentence to be a warm closing statement to injured employees, they overlooked that the letter would be received by the families of deceased officers.
“This oversight was not intentional, and CorVel regrets any hurt its communications caused these fine families. CorVel plans to reach out individually to the families of Officer Hank Nava and Officer Dwayne Freeto with its sincere apologies.”
Van Houten said the letters were insensitive, but not surprising.
“It’s par for the course for the service we’ve been getting from CorVel,” he said.
Brian Dickerson, Fort Worth director of human resources, said city employees consistently complained about CorVel’s bureaucratic nature.
“There’s overall been a lack of sensitivity,” Dickerson said.
The “tipping point,” Van Houten said, came in January, when Fort Worth Sgt. Shane Drake was shot in the abdomen after responding to a 911 call.
While Drake was recovering at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, a CorVel representative showed up and proceeded to ask questions of the family, officers and hospital staff.
“You have an officer injured and a family trying to figure out what is what, and it is just wrong,” Mayor Betsy Price said at the time. “I was just furious with this company for using bad judgment.”
In April, a report from the Texas Department of Insurance revealed Fort Worth was one of three, out of 26 municipalities scored, that did not rank as a “high performer” in the handling of workers’ compensation plans in 2014.
Fort Worth’s score dropped from 97.88 percent in 2012 (when the city had a different administrator for workers’ compensation plans) to 92.67 percent last year.
Price called CorVel “average performers,” and in August, the city announced that it would be switching from CorVel to York.
The city of Fort Worth is switching workers’ compensation administrators, from CorVel to York Risk Services on Sunday
Dickerson said York should limit the “red tape” city employees have to go through on their way to returning to work. Fort Worth police officer Jody Boday, for example, battled CorVel for more than two years before she was able to get necessary spine surgery in January.
Both Nava-Salazar and Freeto rely on weekly checks from CorVel. Nava-Salazar said the payments are inconsistent — some months, she’ll get a check each week, while other times, weeks will pass without receiving anything.
Van Houten said the letters sent to Freeto and Nava were just another example of how CorVel operates.
“I wouldn’t be aggressive on this issue if this was an isolated incident,” he said. “People make mistakes. It’s when those mistakes are repeated so many times and it becomes a pattern of practice that we need to highlight the fact that CorVel is, as a whole, very insensitive.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7684