Truck driver Glenn Green says he’s not used to spending more than a few days at home before the open road beckons him to jump back in his truck to deliver the nation’s freight. However, a COVID-19 diagnosis while under a load, a week in the intensive care unit of a hospital hundreds of miles from home and two months off the road recovering from the deadly virus have him reflecting on the past, but worried about his future.
Once praised for being on the front lines risking possible exposure to the coronavirus to deliver critical supplies, Green, a 35-year trucking veteran from Joplin, Missouri, said he now worries about how he will make ends meet since his workers’ compensation claim was denied three days after he was discharged from the hospital.
Despite nearly 2.3 million Americans contracting COVID-19 and 121,000 dying from it, Green, who drives for Bay and Bay Transfer of Eagan, Minnesota, said he is among many frontline workers, including healthcare professionals, who must now prove they contracted the virus while on the job.
While no one in his family has contracted the coronavirus, the third-party workers’ compensation company that Bay and Bay uses called Dakota Truck Underwriters of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, stated in Green’s denial letter that “there is no evidence that the employee was exposed to the same strain of COVID-19 that anyone may or may not have had.”
According to Green’s letter, the reason for his denial was based on the fact that there were no medical records linking his COVID-19 diagnosis “to anyone [Green] was in contact with while working.”
Additionally, the letter stated that “workers’ compensation does not cover colds, flu, virus infections, like coughs, and/or any other normal virus and infections of daily living that you can be exposed to just as likely outside of work than as you can inside of work.”
While he and other truck drivers were called heroes by millions of Americans for continuing to haul essential goods despite potential health risks, he now must play detective to trace back how he may have contracted COVID-19.
It’s up to him [Green] to establish a “direct causal connection between work and illness,” according to his denial letter sent by Melissa Criswell of Dakota Truck Underwriters.
On the front lines
Green said he was proud to be considered an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic, delivering refrigerated freight. He admits he was born to serve as he hails from a military family. His mom, Jeanne Green, served in the U.S. Navy, and his dad, Eugene Green, served in the United States Marine Corps. Both retired in 1950. Glenn Green also served in the U.S. Navy in 1968.
“It’s been kind of depressing being isolated from everyone around you because you don’t want to make them sick, but it’s also sad that I feel punished by my company for doing my job and getting sick,” Green said.
Unable to shake a pounding headache, fatigue and shortness of breath for nearly six days, Green said he finally had to call his manager on April 10 to tell him he couldn’t deliver his load and needed to find a place to rest.
Deep down, Green suspected he had contracted COVID-19 at one of the many truck stops or plants he delivered to along his route that took him through at least six states over a two-week period. He claims the company didn’t provide drivers with personal protective equipment (PPE) until after he or other drivers tested positive for the virus.
He previously checked into a motel on April 10 in Tomah, Wisconsin, and slept for three days. However, Green said his symptoms worsened, including his headache, and he felt like there was a 50-pound dumbbell on his chest.
Alone and nearly 700 miles from home in Joplin, Missouri, Green finally decided it was time to call 911.
“It really is a helpless feeling being all alone and realizing that you need help — and soon or it may be too late,” Green told FreightWaves.
While fighting for his life, Green said he still had to field questions from his trucking company as well as Dakota Truck Underwriters, the workers’ compensation firm his carrier used.
“I was in ICU and calls were coming in and I was trying to answer all of their questions, but I was still weak and struggling, so it was hard dealing with all of that while I was alone,” he said.
While Kitso Veasy, director of human resources at Bay and Bay, which has more than 390 power units and 400 drivers, told FreightWaves the company paid Green two weeks of personal time off because of COVID-19, which amounted to around $1,100, the workers’ compensation denial letter he received from Dakota Truck Underwriters is out of her hands.
“We paid our drivers 80 hours of PTO if they contracted COVID, but after that, it’s all in the hands of a third-party company we use,” Veasy told FreightWaves. “They are denying claims, not us.”
He was admitted to a local hospital on April 13 in Tomah, where Green said they swabbed him for COVID-19. A day later, he was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he received the grim news that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
After some consideration, Green agreed to participate in a clinical trial to treat the virus and was transferred to the world-renown Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment.
“At first, I didn’t want to do it, but then as I laid in my hospital bed all alone in isolation, I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’” Green said.
The medicine he was given as part of the clinical trial worked and Green was released from the Mayo Clinic on April 20.
However, he faced another dilemma — how was he going to get home?
“I was told I couldn’t travel by bus or air because I couldn’t risk possibly infecting others, but the hospital basically said my vitals were up and it was time to go, but I didn’t know where,” Green said.
He said he called Bay and Bay about his next steps as he waited in his wheelchair by the front door of the hospital.
However, it was Mayo Clinic hospital staff that drove him to a local rental car agency so Green could arrange his transportation home. He admits it was an exhausting drive home after his COVID-19 diagnosis.
“The note from my doctor at Mayo said I could drive a motorized vehicle home because I couldn’t take public transportation, I couldn’t take a bus or a plane, but when I sent my doctor’s note to Bay and Bay, they wanted me to rent a car, drive it to Tomah, hop in my big rig, then drive it to our Burnsville terminal,” Green said. “Then, I was told the company would help me get home.”
His doctor disagreed.
“He said there’s no way after what you’ve been through that you can drive a big truck,” Green said. “He said you are still trying to breathe at this point.”
While Green said he has been reimbursed for his rental car and gas expenses to get home to Missouri, the company is still disputing part of his motel expenses.
Expert weighs in on how companies should handle COVID-19
Tom Cecich, a strategic advisor to Avetta, a cloud-based supply chain risk management and commercial marketplace platform, said the country needs truckers to do their jobs during this essential period.
However, Cecich said these companies should also protect drivers if they get sick.
“They are providing essential services and they should be protected before they get sick [with PPE],” Cecich told FreightWaves. “If you get sick doing your job, your recourse should be to get workers’ comp from your employer. If the company covers it under workers’ comp, that keeps the employee from suing the company. If they say no to workers’ comp, the lawyers are going to say, “We’re going to sue you.”
While Green has more than 3 million miles on the road, he is still weighing his next steps with Bay and Bay.
“I love to drive and be on the road and we [Bay and Bay] are talking about how to do that, but I still feel bad about how I was treated,” he said. “I was considered an essential worker until I got sick, then it was up to me to seek help and get myself home.”