Injured detective determined to change workers comp for others

Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 5:28 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - As she sits down for an interview, former Washoe County Sheriff’s Detective Kim Frankel is in a constant struggle with her body.

This is her life, her every moment punctuated by repetitive, painful, involuntary muscle contractions.

It has a name--dystonia--but by any label, it’s a living hell.

It was caused by injuries she suffered in June of 2020 when--on duty-- her county car was rear-ended by a drunk driver. He was apprehended, despite her injuries by Frankel herself, tried and convicted. His actions may have caused her injuries, but the county she was sworn to serve and the system created to protect and support her in case of injury have failed her.

Two and a half years ago, Frankel was 16 years into a career in law enforcement. A competitive athlete since childhood, she was physically fit, still dabbling in strenuous sports. Her record was that of a dedicated officer, respected by her peers and awarded a bronze star following a dangerous incident while working in patrol. She also earned national recognition as a detective for her work investigating sex crimes against children.

Frankel suffered whiplash and a concussion in the accident but soon returned to work on light duty. Then, the more serious consequences of her injuries started. Her hands slowly turned claw-like, her arms, torso and feet followed, but there were no answers.

“I was scared to death, she says, “because I didn’t know what was happening to me.”

Finally, six months after the accident, an appointment with a neurologist and a diagnosis.

“I’d never heard the word dystonia. I didn’t even know how to spell it. My husband and I went home and researched it and that scared the sh*t out of me even more.”

Knowing what she was dealing with should have led to treatment. Industrial insurance, workers comp, is there to take care of employees injured on the job, but the county, its case manager, and its attorneys decided to fight the diagnosis all the way.

“They put me through numerous tests trying to fight the diagnosis and come up with their own. They wanted me to have Parkinson’s or MS.”

Finally, an independent medical examiner was called in.

“And that doctor that they hired to dispute the claim, wrote in his documentation that I had functional dystonia on an industrial basis.”

When the case manager argued with that conclusion, he reportedly left the room vowing to never again involve himself in a worker’s comp claim.

So, the county keeps getting the same answer and keeps fighting.

“And the same recommendation for treatment.”

But each delay, each new fight, is more than a setback. When her condition was first diagnosed, she was told there may only be a three-year window for treatment to be effective. The clock has been ticking for nearly two and a half.

“You look at the cost of the nurse case manager, the private investigators, the attorneys, of their tests that they wanted to do, of the three IME’s (Independent Medical Examiners) that they had done. That could have gone to my treatment. And maybe I’d be working today. Maybe I’d be back at my dream job.”

And things are getting worse. In April, her first dystonic storm. She was found unconscious in a hallway, and rushed to emergency in convulsions. She says ‘I thought I was going to die.’

She recovered. The county continues to fight and lose. Life for Deputy Frankel remains the same.

Why is this happening? We asked for an interview with the county controller or the human resources department. That request was denied. Ongoing legal issues were cited.

Kim Frankel isn’t waiting.

The county can delay and stonewall because when the worker’s comp system was privatized in 1995, the legislature removed its bad faith clause. Workers who believe their claims have been unjustly denied have no recourse.

She’s made it her mission to change that.

“I have already gone through the judicial process and prevailed through the Nevada Department of Administration and appeals office and prevailed through district court. I am not here to prove my case, I’m here to here to share the corruption that’s taking place in the worker’s comp system.”

Statewide, the backlog of cases waiting on appeal runs into the thousands and is growing. Behind each one is an employee waiting, often for years for treatment.

Not everyone, of course, took an oath to protect and serve as Kim Frankel did, but each expected a system meant to support them in the worst of circumstances to keep that promise.

Does she feel betrayed by the county, by the system?

“Betrayed is not a strong enough word.”