Caught In Insurance Bind, Chief Struggles To Survive

Caught In Insurance Bind, Chief Struggles To Survive

GoFundMe Raises $14,720 After He’s Cut From County Plan

Ian Austin/The Freeman’s Journal – Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert hold the medications and devices he uses daily to stay alive.

By LIBBY CUDMORE

COOPERSTOWN – When Mike Covert was in Bassett Hospital recovering from a heart attack in January, he had an unexpected visitor.
A young woman from the “Angel” program, which Covert started in 2015 as the Cooperstown police chief to help heroin addicts seek recovery, came to his bedside. “She didn’t have a car and she still came to see me,” he said. “She thanked me for saving her.”
Now Covert, a 25-year veteran of Otsego County law enforcement departments, is the recipient of a GoFundMe campaign, started by his former partner Mike Ten Eyck.
Ten Eyck started the fundraising – it surpassed the $10,000 goal by $4,720 as of Tuesday afternoon, March 5 – after unexpectedly losing his health insurance: A county audit found he was no longer eligible through the county, and couldn’t obtain it through the village.
Covert first knew something was physically wrong when he went to Bassett Hospital last March for a swollen ankle. “They admitted me for end-stage renal failure,” he said. “I had never had problems with my kidneys.”
He continued working, doing eight hours of dialysis through a port in his stomach at home every night, until just before Hall of Fame Weekend last July, when he began having shortness of breath.
He was hospitalized with pneumonia for five days and released just before the 2018 Induction. “I had to work,” he said. “But I tried lifting a patient into the ambulance, and I couldn’t.”
He was allowed time off under the U.S. Family & Medical Leave Act, and underwent a triple–heart bypass in August.
But in October, he got some bad news. County Treasurer Allen Ruffles called to say that former county deputy and police chief’s health insurance would be cancelled at the end of the year.
Covert said he’d worked 25
years for the county, but Ruffles
said he would have had to work
25 years exclusively for the county Sheriff’s Department to qualify for the plan.
“It’s awful,” said Ruffles, “but we can’t use taxpayer funds for someone who can’t legally be on that insurance.”
Meanwhile at Village Hall, he was required to undergo an independent medical exam before he could come back to work, and was put on unpaid administrative leave until Dec. 20, when the exam was scheduled.
“The results came back and said I had 20/30, 20/40 vision, but I wear glasses,” he said. “I have diabetes, which I’ve always had. We knew I had a heart condition, and an operation had ruptured two discs in my neck.
“They recommended I not be a police officer anymore.”
He received an offer from Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh offering to pay him unemployment, but no health insurance. “I refused to sign,” he said. “As an employee of the village, I’m entitled to health insurance.”
A hearing was called for early February, but before he could attend, he had a heart attack on Jan. 31. “It was all the stress,” he said. “They tried to put in a stent, and I went into full cardiac arrest in the recovery room. They used a defibrillator twice on me. They did five minutes of CPR.”
He recovered, and gave his testimony in his unemployment hearing over the phone from a hospital bed. “They had only taken my breathing tube out an hour before,” he said. “But when I came home, I found out I had won.”
For her part, Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch issued a statement saying Covert advised Village Hall in January that he is receiving “other insurance coverage.”
When he became police chief, she said, he had insurance through the county, and signed a “voluntary declination of health insurance with the village.” As a result, he received an extra $200 a month, or $24,000 a year, from the village “as an insurance buyout.”
Despite his illness, the chief was never terminated. “He remains on a medical leave of absence,” she said.
Covert said that during his various stays in the hospital, not one village employee came to visit him. “That’s what hurt,” he said. “I worked with these people every day and none of them sent a letter or a card or stopped by.”
Mike Ten Eyck, he said, came by frequently and called daily, as did Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. But with no insurance, medications and dialysis costing thousands of dollars a month – even with Medicare – Covert was running out of options. “I was down to $17,” he said. “And Mike offered to do a GoFundMe.”
Said Covert, “To see that kind of response was so touching,” he said. “I had old friends from law enforcement reach out. It was humbling.”
He is in the final stages of the testing for a kidney transplant, and hopes to soon get on the donor list.
And the girl who visited him in the hospital even offered him her kidney. “She said I saved her life,” he said. “She thought it was the least she could do.”

 


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