Extension of diver’s insurance nears OK
A committee of the Ulster County Legislature has endorsed an 18-month extension of medical insurance for the family of an Ulster County corrections sergeant who died during a dive team training exercise.
The resolution to provide coverage to Kerry Winters’ wife and two sons was approved by the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday and is on the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting of the full Legislature, which must approve the proposal for it to take effect.
Winters, 51, a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, died Sept. 22 after being found unconscious during an in-water training exercise in the Ashokan Reservoir in town of Olive.
The Ulster County sheriff’s dep-
uties who were Winters’ colleagues on the sheriff’s dive team have survivor benefits included in their union contract. But the contract of the county corrections officers’ union, of which Winters was a member, does not.
The deputies are represented by the Police Benevolent Association, and the health care provision was negotiated in 2015. The corrections officers are represented
by the Communications Workers of America.
Extending benefits to Winters’ family for 18 months first was proposed in October by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein and county Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum. Hein at the time called the matter one of “fundamental fairness.” “To me, this is just an issue of fundamentally doing what’s right,” he said. The measure also has the support of county Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, who said last month: “In my opinion, when Sgt. Winters
was operating as a member of the dive team, he was operating as a sheriff’s deputy and should be entitled to the same benefit.” The resolution to provide the extended benefits states: “The water rescue team represents a unique situation in that its members perform the same life-saving functions but are covered by different labor agreements and therefore eligible for different benefits. It would be unjust in this unique situation to not extend the insurance coverage provision to Sgt. Winters’ family.” The extended
benefits, if approved by the full Legislature, would cost the county $5,942 for the remainder of 2016, $40,219 for 2017 and $14,747 for a portion of 2018 — a total of $60,908. “I’ll say we learned a lesson here,” said Legislator T.J. Briggs. “Unfortunately, somebody passes in the line of duty like that ... the first of next month, you have no insurance. We pray that it will never happen again, but I think we need to put it out there and offer it as a good-faith effort.” Briggs, D-Ellenville, said after Tuesday’s meeting that
he plans to draft a resolution to provide extended health benefits to the family of any county employee who dies on the job. “That means if you’re a clerk in the personnel office and you’re delivering the mail ... and you have a heart attack on the job ... your family would get 18 months of insurance,” he said. “It’s not a big cost,” he said. “... It is something that we will talk to the unions [about] as part of contract negotiations, but I think it’s the least we can do.”
Legislator Richard Gerentine, R-Marlboro, said Briggs’
proposal should be reviewed by lawyers. “I would ask our counsel to maybe look at that and just be careful, because we can get ourselves into some other areas that we might not [want] to be involved with,” he said.Winters was pronounced dead at HealthAlliance Hospital’s Broadway Campus in Kingston shortly after being pulled from the water. His death was ruled an accidental drowning. The sergeant was an experienced and accomplished diver who had been on the sheriff’s dive team for 15 years.
Sgt. Kerry Winters