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Injured On Job, Ex-County Employee Wants Officials to Do Right Thing

Injury happened in July 2010; man says county is refusing to take care of its responsibilities

Time is running short for the Jones family.

The lease on the home the family of four -- David, his wife, Sandra, and sons Zachary and Matthew -- has been renting ran out at the end of December. The owner would not extend it because she wants to live in the house.

They have not been able to find a new place to rent because they have no income. They are running out of possessions to sell to keep the utilities turned on and food on the table.

And David Jones – who fell and injured his back and hand while working as a compost operator for the Ocean County Department of Solid Waste Management in July 2010 – continues to suffer from chronic pain that is sometimes so bad that he spends the night in the emergency room. His right hand remains curled, unusable. He uses a cane because increasing numbness in his leg and foot have left him unable to walk normally.

Jones says Ocean County has been dragging its feet on the matter and “using every excuse in the book” to avoid it. And he doesn’t understand why. Doctor after doctor has examined him. All have certified he is unable to return to work due to the injuries he suffered. The county, he says, is refusing to accept responsibility for his injuries, and refusing to help him in any way, going so far as to terminate him in May 2011 for what they said was abandoning his job, then refusing to discuss matters because of what they say is an ongoing worker’s compensation case.

Jones says all he wants is for the county to help him file for an accidental disability pension, a benefit available to public employees enrolled in the Public Employees' Retirement System, which Jones paid into as a county employee. The county could file the paperwork automatically for him, he said; if he files it himself, the county must sign off on it, acknowledging Jones suffered an on-the-job injury. Jones says the county has refused to do either, and it has become an ongoing battle. In August 2012 the county was ordered to resume temporary disability payments as well as resume treating Jones’ medical issues. But he is drained.

 “All I want is for them to put in the disability paperwork so I can take care of my family,” he says.

Attempts to talk to County Attorney John C. Sahradnick, in person and by phone, for this article over the past two months have been unsuccessful.

* * *

Three years ago, life was good for David Jones and his wife, Sandra. Their younger son, Matthew, had just turned 1; their older son, Zachary, was enjoying life as a big brother. David Jones had gone to work for Ocean County in June 2008, looking for long-term stability for his family. Things were going well, Jones said, noting he was receiving praise for his work as a compost operator and had been given increasing responsibility.

Everything changed the morning of July 6, 2010.

Jones was preparing to move a tub grinder – an industrial wood chipper – to Ocean County College, where the county was  clearing land for the construction of the new Kean@Ocean gateway building.

“I just had to hook up two air lines and the electrical line,” he said. He had one foot on the steps and one on the grate when he lost his balance.

Jones said he landed in a seated position on a steel grate that covered part of the tractor portion of the truck, his legs dangling through two gaps as if he’d deliberately sat down. He tried to move his right hand to give himself leverage to get out, and as he did so, he felt a tugging sensation. He pulled hard against the resistance, trying to free his hand.

The resistance he was feeling wasn’t because his sleeve was caught, however; it was the result of a bungee cord hook that had become impaled in the palm of his hand.

“I didn’t realize it,” he said. The tugging drove the hook deeper into his hand. When his hand wouldn’t pull free, that’s when he noticed he was bleeding. And that’s when he noticed the pain, too.

For a moment, Jones said, he was nervous, because he was alone and where he was on the truck was not immediately visible from the entrance to the site where he was working.

Then he remembered he had stuck his cellphone in his shirt pocket.

“Normally I carried it in my pants pocket,” Jones said, but that morning he had stuck it in the right shirt pocket while he was working. He reached with his left hand and grabbed it, and called his supervisor for help.

“They had to lift me out of the chassis,” Jones said.

* * *

“I’ve always been a worker,” David Jones says. “Sitting around like this bothers me.”

Jones started working when he was 15 years old and always prided himself on getting the job done. He earned a commercial driver’s license two years before he went to work for the county.

Since the accident, however, he has had to give up that license. He cannot drive. He has not been cleared to return to work. Surgery and multiple treatments have failed to restore use to Jones’ right hand. His fingers curl as though he’s holding a stick, but if he were given one, he has no ability to actually grasp it.

His hand issues are only part of the problem, however, Jones said. Intense pain has never been fully relieved – he sometimes sleeps on the floor because of it – and increasing numbness in his leg and foot has left him with a condition called foot drop syndrome, where he is unable to lift his foot normally when he takes a step or tries to walk. He relies on a cane to keep his balance.

“It’s not one simple thing,” he said.

Jones – who shared his medical files and reports so numerous they fill a 6-inch deep file box – says his back was not examined during the initial treatment, because the injury to his hand was so obvious and immediate, and the pain so severe. But within weeks of the accident, he began having issues with his leg – issues documented on Aug. 25, 2010, by Dr. Shefali Gandhi, a neurologist at Ocean Medical Park in Brick to whom Jones was referred, in a report sent to Dr. Brian Katt of Brielle Orthopedics, who was treating Jones for the hand injury.

“… since his problems started he has been having shoulder pain as well and he notices that he has been having some difficulty in the left leg as well,” Gandhi wrote.

Katt documented issues with his leg and foot in December 2010, noting in his report that “He has numbness in the level of his feet and is walking on the outside of his feet,” and adding, “I am unsure of the relationship between the injury to his hand and the neurological complaints that he has; however, he did not have any of these neurological complaints before the injury occurred.”

All of the doctors agreed, however, that Jones was not capable of returning to work.

Jones continued to see doctors – Katt recommended a thorough neurological workup including checking for multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions, all of which have come back negative. But Jones’ condition continued to deteriorate.

Jones has been diagnosed with a condition called “conversion disorder,” according to Dr. Kimberly Hogan, Jones’ personal physician, and that has become a point of contention, between him and the county, he says. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, maintained by the National Institutes for Health, conversion disorder is “a condition in which a person has blindness, paralysis, or other nervous system (neurologic) symptoms that cannot be explained by medical evaluation.”

While conversion disorder may explain the ongoing issues with his hand, Jones said another doctor said that would not account for the severe pain he has been feeling. Jones was sent to Dr. Nicholas Diamond in New Brunswick in October, part of a followup treatment ordered as a result of a workers compensation hearing that occurred the same day as the Civil Service Commission hearing in August. Diamond said a followup MRI of Jones's entire spine – the only MRI he'd had during his treatment examined his only his neck region – showed what Jones said the doctor told him are “severe herniations” of discs, particularly in the lowest part of his spine.

Jones said he'd had yearly physicals before the July 2010 accident and had no issues in his lower before that day, which was confirmed by Hogan, his personal physician.

* * *

It was in December 2010 when things got ugly, Jones says. On Nov. 9, 2010, Katt said Jones was not able to return to work and set a reexamination for six weeks later. A followup with Dr. Frederick L. Ballet of Hand Surgery and Rehabilitation Center of Marlton on Nov. 29 confirmed Katt's findings that Jones was still injured, though they were unable to pinpoint why his condition was not improving. Ballet, too, said Jones was unable to return to work.

But on Dec. 3, 2010, Jones says, he received a call telling him that if he did not return to work the following Monday, he would be fired. So he tried to go back to work, despite the doctors’ statements that he was unable to do so.

In documents from a Civil Service hearing in August 2012, the county claims Katt cleared Jones to return to work on Dec. 2, 2010 with several restrictions – restrictions the county said in the hearing that it was ultimately unable to accommodate.

“They had me picking up garbage,” Jones said; the description in court documents said he was assigned to check load tickets. It required Jones to spend a lot of time on his feet, he said, and going to the bathroom – which was more frequent because of the issues he was having – required walking across a field to get to a port-a-john, a difficult task because of the problem he had with his leg. At first, Jones said, a co-worker would drive him over, but Jones quickly realized the patience with that arrangement was going to be short-lived. Jones said after a few days of the routine, he knew he couldn’t continue to work, so he took a couple of personal days that he had and told the county he could not continue.

Two weeks later, in a Dec. 23, 2010 progress report, Katt stated: “At this point I do not feel he is a candidate to work in any capacity and I will see him back after being seen by the neurologist.”

On March 17, 2011, Keith Goetting, director of the county’s Department of Employee Relations, notified Jones that he was being granted leave without pay through April 17 of that year, with the hope he could return to work thereafter, but that he was at the point of having exhausted all the leave available to him and would have to make a decision about what he intended to do about his job.

With his medical issues worsening, Jones was unable to return to work, and in May 2011 the county terminated him, accusing him of abandoning his job, a finding that was upheld by Hearing Officer James W. Holzapfel.

Jones contested the finding of abandoning his job, contending he asked for a light-duty position and was denied that despite the fact that other employees have been accommodated. After months of wrangling, the state Civil Service Commission reviewed the case and found that while the county had the authority to terminate Jones, they changed the finding from “resignation not in good standing” to “resignation in good standing,” reflecting the fact that Jones was willing to work but that the county could not offer him a position that could accommodate his medical issues.

Jones says at this point he just wants the county to allow him to receive the accidental disability pension that he says he is entitled to receive because he was injured on the job, but says the county is refusing to cooperate.

Their refusal has boxed him into a corner, he says. Sandra Jones has been unable to find a job that provides the flexibility she needs to drive David to his many doctors’ visits, as well as allow her to transport their younger son to speech therapy sessions.

Without verifiable income, he and his wife have been unable to find another rental. They have sold off as many possessions as they can to pay bills. They have sought rental assistance, energy bill assistance, and more, and have found themselves going in circles and getting nowhere fast.

He is deeply worried about what will happen if he and his family are evicted, because, he says, they have nowhere to go. Their families have no room to take them in, because they’ve taken in other family members who’ve suffered job losses due to the economy.

His best hope, he says, is to get the disability pension, so he can provide for his family.

“I just want to move on with my life,” he said. And he could do that, he says, if the county would just do the right thing. He even took his case to a meeting of the Ocean County Board of Freeholders in October. During that meeting, attended by a number of county workers asking for a better pay increase in contract negotiations, Freeholder John C. Bartlett made a statement that the county had cut staffing without firing anyone.

"How can you say that," Jones countered during the public portion of the meeting, "when you fired me?"

Jones says the bottom line is the county is refusing to do what is right and what it is supposed to be doing for him.

“The fact is it is an on-the-job injury that they need to take responsibility for,” Jones said.

Irina February 02, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Woooo Wait, before you all bash Ocean County. Reading this story, it seems like a big chunk of this story is MIA. My husband works for Ocean County, got hurt and not a lick of problems. Another time he became sick and again no issues what-so-ever. They were more then accomadating when he was only able to do light duty.....This whole story sounds real FISHY!
larry February 02, 2013 at 12:40 PM
what's wrong with just plain old disability he wants accidental which has no federal taxes taken out and to qualify for accidental it needs to be a violent accident think he is trying to milk the system
Mad in OC February 02, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Why can't his wife work. She says its because she has to take her husband to the doctor and a kid to speech but that's a BS excuse. She can work nights, weekends, etc. Maybe he could work from home or do some other sort of job that does not require as much physical labor. Soemthing more sedentary.
mjmjr February 02, 2013 at 02:04 PM
ITS TAKE 6TO8 MONTHS TO COLLECT DISABILITY ,THEN YOU GET ALL THE BACK MONEY IN ONE LUMP SUM.
former February 02, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Hi, That is great that your husband works for the county. And sorry to hear he got hurt at some point, but was he able to return to full duty. And as far as light duty each department has their own way of handling light duty. My director felt it was ok to send me to the county recycling yard in lakewood to pick up trash and check tickets( even though i couldn't drive or walk or stand without having problems).The sad thing is that i live in mananhawkin and their happens to be a county recycling yard in manahawkin 5 mins from my house, but they chose to send me to lakewood. And that was only to make it harder for me. They don't give you problems when they don't have to try to cover up the lack of treatment and the wrongful termination - being i was hurt on the job. They also used to give people light duty jobs and reasign people if their injurys were serious enough to prevent them from returning to full duty. But in my case it has been proven that i am not able to return to full duty, and i asked them to do what they have done for others that got hurt this bad. Its called past practice, they used to offer people lower positions so they could stay employed. I asked for that and they told me that they didn't have anything to offer because of the economy. they said it was a hiring freeze. but if i was friendly with someone high up they would have done it for me. but as you can see i am NOT!!
former February 02, 2013 at 03:09 PM
the difference between the two, is accidental disability pension allows the person who does not have enough time in to be able to get something if they get hurt on the job and become disabled. And it does not have to be( violent) to be approved for it. It has to have caused a disabling condition that would prevent you from doing any other job they offer. So i am not trying to milk the system, I paid into it and got hurt on the job. I became disabled from the on the job injury. It has left my right hand paralized, it has left me with severe back injury that is causing problems with walking and extreme pain among other severe issues from the nerves throughout my whole spine being affected. Regular disability is for people that have become disabled from reasons (such as autoimmune disorders, cancer, etc), not from an on the job injury. The funny thing is, if this happened to you, a family member or friend, you would feel completely different about this. I got hurt on the job, became disabled, and my employer threw me away and is refusing to give proper medical treatment or the benefits there for these situations. People think just because they are Ocean County that they do right by people and that is not case at all. They make people think that they do good all the time, but just like any other corrupt politician, OCEAN COUNTY GOVERNMENT also is corrupt. THEY THROW THEIR INJURED WORKERS AWAY!!!
former February 02, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Thank you for understanding my situation, it seems like only people that have gone through the whole "workers comp" process are the ones who truly understand what it is like and what actually happens. I appreciate your support!!
former February 02, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Well maybe your husband "knows" the right people, because the almighty Ocean County has not done the right thing in my case, and I know several other Ocean County Employees who have also had problems when they got hurt. Ocean County likes to throw away their employees if they get hurt...maybe your husband was lucky. The fact is that I sustained a serious injury on the job that has left me disabled. And what did Ocean County do for me, well lets see. They refused proper medical treatment...instead of checking for a spine injury, they tried saying my problems were caused from MS (autoimmune disorder)....then ended workers comp care. They did not even prove that is what I had....I had to go to my own doctors to get proper examinations and to find out the severe medical problems I have is from a severe spine injury that has affected most of my spine that happened from the fall. Whether you want to believe it or not, their doctors didn't even examine my back, you would think they would have considering I fell...but they chose to just blame it on an autoimmune disorder which I didn't even have just to try to get away with taking responsibility for my medical problems CAUSED from the on the job accident!!! SHOCKING I know right, that Ocean County would not do the right thing....but its true....whether you want to believe me or not. The fact is that I got severely hurt at work, and since I was no longer useful to them, they THREW me away!!! Ocean County government is corrupt!!!
JFK February 02, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Sure...Until something should happen to you or a family member than you would see no problem with it all.
JFK February 02, 2013 at 04:24 PM
Do you have any work or openings. You all make it sound so easy. The only one who is getting jobs. Is people who has connections and knows someone. No one is going to hire someone that is injured. Employers definitely scrutinize everyone that is hired. Sure I know there is laws against no disability act amongst other acts.. Hard to prove that an employer is holding it against anyone that goes for a job.
Josie noman February 02, 2013 at 04:31 PM
I agree with have spoken, some people just play the system. There was article in NJ.com last week two sheriff officers were granted disability pension due to issues related to not being able to work any longer since job involved handling dead bodies, this was in Morris Cty. Well 3 years after granted disability retirement they opened up a company that now cleans crime scenes, now talk about state getting the shaft since it has been five years state no longer can go back to see if they are able to work. If people would take half the time to find a way to work instead of spending countless hours of how to get out of work this world would be much better place.
Murphy's Law February 02, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Why doesn't he have a a good lawyer? I have been fighting for 2 yrs and almost the same situation. Without an attorney and a good one at that, you will go round and round..... I know what you are going threw and I even lost my house from Sandy. My accident happened the day after Hurricane Irene. Good luck and if you want a good attorney, let me know, the firm is awesome and helps more then I ever realized!
Tired of It February 03, 2013 at 05:01 AM
I know EXACTLY what you are going through. I too worked for the County and fell on the job resulting 2 failed knee surgeries and 1 failed ankle surgery. County also told me I would be fired for abandoing my job so I had to resign. The County has been dragging their feet with me also and it has been since 2001 for me. I filed for SSD and received it. All of the Worker's Comp doctors said I was unable to work also but good ol' Ocean County thought differently. They tried to say they made a special "job" for me but in fact it was a lie, I would still have direct inmate contact. Everytime one of "their" doctors put in their report about my injury and not being able to work, the county changes doctors. Here it is 2013 and they are still pulling their stuff trying to get out of paying, settling, and treating. I wish you luck but just know you are not the only one the County is doing this to. There are many others.
former February 03, 2013 at 05:57 AM
I just have to say, As we all know their are alot of bad apples in the bunch. But to include the people that are actually telling the truth and can prove it with documents and medical reports. I asked them for a position that I would be able to do with my disabilities and they told me that they don't have anything for me. So here i sit with no job because i got hurt on the job. So until you can spend time dealing with my problems and can say it is easy. Please be understanding of my issue with the county.
former February 03, 2013 at 06:01 AM
You hit the nail on the head. I have no chance of getting a job with a on going workers comp case and all of my medical issues. Their is so many people looking for work that are not hurt, and those peolpe will get the jobs first. The employers know how to get around not hiring the disabled and they do it well and never get caught. thanks for understanding my problem i am having with the county
former February 03, 2013 at 06:02 AM
I have been waiting about that long if not longer. their is such a large back log of people filing. I have a lawyer handling my case.
former February 03, 2013 at 06:17 AM
Why do people need to focus on the fact that my wife doesn't work. What if this happened to you or some you love and care about.I am sure you or the person that would be helping you would give up all of their free time to help or even become a full time care taker. Think of trying to tie your shoes, getting dressed, cooking, driving, taking a shower, etc. Now take one hand and put it in your pocket and try doing any of those things and get back to me. that is just what i have to deal with, thankfully my wife helps me with those things and many other things as well. Oh by the way with having all of the medical issues going on they told me not to drive. Maybe all of the people that think my wife should go get a job. Maybe you guys can drive me and my kids around since she would be working. So i think that pointing that fact out is petty.
1stcav February 03, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Hard working Blue collar worker and NOT connected to Boss Hog , you're screwed.Had you been connected they would be putting a ramp on your home and hand delivering your checks via County car....Get a Lawyer OUT of OC , who knows WC & State laws and mandates , keep good records, times dates and copies of all denied claims..They try to overstep there bounds & windup getting sued and loose in the Court room......hang in there, they hope you will give up...don't !!!
Chief Wahoo February 03, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Wife needs to get a job to provide for the family. Why/How is this a 'news' story ? This guy is costing the taxpayers money.
Sarah February 05, 2013 at 05:51 PM
I totally agree! Because you can't drive? Is there not public transportation anymore? Ocean County has seen too many people get hurt and just get a pay out, or a paycheck because they don't wanna work. Maybe you asre the exception, and I hope you are, but I think in this day and age it's hard to see the truth in anything anymore, seems like everyone just wants a hand out.
Sarah February 05, 2013 at 05:52 PM
You are SO right!!! I know about the county as well...and something is hokey.
Sarah February 05, 2013 at 06:07 PM
People are focusing on your wife, because she had to stop working completely? I mean, you don't have doctors appointments every day, or at night. She could work at night. Graveyard shift. You could take Ocean Ride, etc. It seems like you really just don't want to work, because if you were the hard worker you say you are, you would be doing whatever you could. Get a job from home!!
Sarah February 06, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Amazing how you manage to type all these lengthy responses with a "curled, unusable" hand.
former February 06, 2013 at 03:14 PM
FYI: i do have a left hand to push the keys with. It is truly amazing how people like you can judge other people.Try living with the medical problems that i am living with. I have to live with a paralyzed hand, Severe back pain from the top to the bottom with(herniations w/ruptures, severe disc bulging putting pressure on the nerves). The fact that the nerves are being impinged on causes me to have additional problems, because NERVES control just about everything in your body. It has caused dropfoot in both feet, knumbness from my knees down, severe pain, problems walking, bladder/bowel control, vision, vertigo problems, etc all from the affected nerves, I encourage you to please do your own research on how spine injuries can affect your ENTIRE body, especially when left untreated!!! I was perfectly healthy until I got hurt at work. What if one day you got hurt severely at work, so severely that you were no longer able to work, and then instead of your employer doing the right thing, they decide you are no longer usefull to them, so they FIRE you. How would you like that? Please do not judge something that you have not gone through!! I went to work perfectly healthy, got severely hurt, and then was THROWN AWAY, left with nothing but severe health problems. The problem is that there are TOO many people like you that think Ocean County would never do something like this, but it is the truth!! They have done it to MANY people!
former February 06, 2013 at 03:26 PM
I thank you for taking the time to share that you are also dealing with this. It is such a shame that the county is doing this to people and they are getting away with it. Its not fair. I encourage you to please speak up to the press or anyone that may be able to start an investigation. Contact the governor or Congressman. I am trying to get it out there so people will know the truth about what the county is doing to their injured workers. If enough people come forward with what the county has done to them, then maybe things can be changed. I want them to be investigated. I refuse to settle for what they are doing to me and I will never give up!! There are people out there that think this story sounds "fishy" well they are lucky that they have not had to go through this with the county. They just don't realize how corrupt the county truly is!!! I also wish you the best of luck, but how long you have been going through this is very scary to me because I have only been dealing with it for almost three years now, my health is getting worse because of the lack of treatment in this amount of time, I can't imagine how I will be if I have to wait 10 years for treatment. feel free to contact me at dsj312@aol.com if you want to further talk.
former February 06, 2013 at 03:28 PM
I appreciate your support!!! Thank you!!!
former February 06, 2013 at 03:31 PM
yes, please send me the info for the attorney. my email is dsj312@aol.com.
Karen Wall February 09, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Sarah and Chief: If you are going to criticize Mr. Jones, I think you both need to stop doing it anonymously. It's very easy to hide behind a screen name and accuse someone of milking the system. It's another to stand behind your comments with your real name. This article is about Mr. Jones' fight with Ocean County. Whether or not his wife is employed is irrelevant to the fight over the disability pension and the workers comp case. It is easy to sit and question and make snide comments when you haven't seen the documentation. I have. Pages and pages of it.
Irina February 11, 2013 at 04:30 PM
@former When I told my husband about this Patch article...He said, Geeze that guy again. Apparently you made quite a name for yourself within the county government. Everyone I know who works for the county has been accomadated with no issue whatsoever. But you...Ask yourself WHY. Piece of advise, no matter who you are, what you did or who you PO'd, go get yourself a good lawyer. Obviously you need one. Obvouisly something is missing from your story.
john smith March 10, 2013 at 06:45 AM
I am new to patch. I would say this doesn't sound like what government would do. Then after reading it and then the comments it sounds like it is the same old Government trying to cover it up make this family give up. I hope they don' t give up. When i moved here from out West i didn't think this stuff happened here as well, but was sadly mistaking. I just hope someone will step up and help this family. And the author of the story should be commended for trying to help. We should all feel some sympathy for this family. We all wouldn't want this to happen to us or someone we care about. "Don't do to others that you wouldn't want done to you"

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