Lightfoot implementing reforms to workers' compensation program, blames Burke for problems

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a series of changes to the city's workers' compensation program after an independent audit exposed widespread issues.

"The system that Ed Burke ran was ripe for corruption," Lightfoot said.

Burke controlled the workers' compensation fund as the 30-year chair of the Finance Committee. Grant Thornton LLP audited the workers' compensation program after Burke's office was raided by the FBI and he was stripped of his powers.

"There were no controls in place according to Grant Thornton to prevent fraud, waste and abuse," Lightfoot said.

According to a whistleblower who sued the city last year over Burke's handling of the program, there were two sets of rules.

"The rules are: If you're clouted, you're injured, you get taken care of," said Patrick McDonough a city Water Department employee currently on disability due to a workers' compensation accident. "If you're someone who's not clouted or a whistleblower such as myself, your checks wouldn't come in on time, they'd look for any excuse to stop your benefits."

The report revealed there were more than 1,300 open cases, more than 600 of which are more than a decade old.

"During this time, Chicago taxpayers paid nearly $300 million on these open claims," Lightfoot said.

The mayor announced a series of reforms including the use of best practices to handle claims, adopting new technology to expedite claims and control medical costs, implementing a comprehensive "return-to-work" program and creating a process to handle legacy claims.

McDonough discovered through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that many of the people running the program for Burke were not qualified.

"The people Edward Burke was hiring at the Committee on Finance were dog walkers, were hair dressers were people who had no background in workers' comp whatsoever," McDonough said.

As part of the effort to reform workers' comp, the city has hired an outside firm to help introduce new controls and procedures to make the system more accountable.

Lightfoot could not say how much the changes will save the city, but she says going forward it will operate with transparency and oversight by the City Council and the Inspector General's office.
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