Ex­ten­sion of diver’s in­sur­ance nears OK

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­line.com

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.

PRO­VIDED

Sgt. Kerry Win­ters

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