The state's largest workers' compensation organization is offering some policyholders grants in the form of personal protective equipment.
Montana State Fund, the quasi public-private program, said about 2,000 eligible policyholders including firefighters, EMTs, police, physician offices, hospitals, nursing homes, grocery and drug stores, social services organizations and group homes, will be able to apply.
Lanny Hubbard, the president and chief executive officer of Montana State Fund, said Wednesday that the fund spent more than $100,000 of its own funds on the equipment several weeks ago. When supplies arrived, it donated 1,000 N-95 masks to the state health department.
The fund has 15,000 medical tri-fold masks, 15,000 KN-95 masks and 100 infrared thermometers available. Letters will go out to qualifying policyholders soon and the deadline to apply is June 10 by 5 p.m.
A former State Fund employee, Matthew Cohn, pitched the idea to the board of directors in April with a deeply personal plea.
"Two weeks ago today I lost the closet friend of my life to COVID," Cohn said. " ... I have been grasping with myself what is it that I can do, what is it that we can do, to minimize the impacts of this virus."
Hubbard said the board had already been discussing how to support its policyholders and found the PPE grant "a very natural place to land."
"It was a little risky, but we entered into the venture, we put a deposit down, and just in the last couple weeks received most of the (supplies)," Hubbard said. "It doesn't solve the entire problem and won't solve the entire problem of providing people with what is an essential ingredient for reopening, but it's a small contribution that we think is important for us to make where we can."
Hubbard said the supplies are meant to be targeted toward the most vulnerable workers.
"We target those first and foremost, because those are the ones who need this protective equipment more than anyone else because they can't shelter in place. They have to go to work every day," Hubbard said.
As Montana has started to reopen, Hubbard said the fund has fielded some questions from employers about the role workers' compensation would play if an employee were to fall ill with COVID-19 from on-the-job exposure.
In Montana, Hubbard said, the law is that any disease incurred in the workplace is a workers' compensation defensible claim, though there may be challenges with COVID-19 because of its nature.
"The problem is that it's so universal and so community-based that it would be difficult under Montana law to easily prove that they contracted it in the workplace," Hubbard said.
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