An Ohio nurse permanently injured by Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine after her employer threatened her with the loss of health benefits if she refused to be vaccinated is suing her former employer and Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, alleging her vaccine injuries were work-related.
Danielle Baker, a 44-year-old Ohio native, found fulfillment in her career as a certified hospice and palliative care registered nurse — a job she performed for two decades, including on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic — until her employer “encouraged” staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine in spring 2021.
Fearing for her job and future career, Baker reluctantly received the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on June 4, 2021. Within 18 days of her first dose, she experienced extreme pain in her lower back — a kidney stone, she thought.
On June 26, 2021, Baker received her second dose. Almost immediately, her symptoms got much worse: shooting pain, tingling and numbness from neck to arm; excruciating back pain; brain fog and fatigue; and loss of physical coordination.
Today, Baker is permanently disabled and unable to work after being diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological condition causing inflammation of the spinal cord.
Baker’s vaccine injuries were the subject of a January interview with The Defender.
After speaking out publicly, Baker pursued a workers’ compensation claim that initially was denied. She appealed but also lost the appeal.
Now, she is taking further legal action. In April, she filed a lawsuit against her former employer, Ohio’s Hospice, and against Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), alleging her vaccine injuries were work-related. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30, 2024.
In a follow-up interview with The Defender, Baker discussed the Ohio workers’ compensation process and explained the next steps in her lawsuit. She also provided an update on her health and shared extensive documentation to corroborate her story.
‘Coerced’ to get the jab despite ‘trepidation and hesitation’
In spring 2021, Ohio’s Hospice started emailing employees “encouraging” them to get the vaccine. According to Baker, the emails not only promoted the “safe and effective” narrative but also offered incentives for getting the shots, such as cash and participation in drawings for larger prizes.
Employees also were told they would lose benefits, such as paid days off, if they opted not to get the vaccine.
Unvaccinated employees, who were subjected to what Baker described as “segregation” in the workplace, were required to be masked at all times.
Baker told The Defender in January that she felt “trepidation and hesitation” about getting the COVID-19 vaccine because she “didn’t trust how fast it was zoomed through, and that if you took the vaccine, you really had no idea what was going to happen.”
“I needed my career, I needed my income, I needed our insurance because I was the carrier,” Baker told CHD.TV in a January interview. “Worst decision I ever made.”
In her follow-up interview, Baker told The Defender the only reason she got vaccinated was for the health benefits, as Ohio’s Hospice had warned employees they would lose their benefits if they didn’t take the primary series of shots by July 2021.”
“So, it was all or nothing,” she said. “You either take it now or you lose the benefits — even if you take it later. I knew I needed my job, I knew I needed my income and I loved my job,” Baker said.
Even with her reservations, she felt incredible pressure. “The propaganda, the constant emails telling us the narrative, the segregation, it was all piling on,” she said.
Doctors ‘didn’t put all the pieces together’ until months later
Baker said it took months for doctors to connect her health difficulties to the COVID-19 vaccination.
“They didn’t put all the pieces together until October 2021,” Baker said. “That’s when I was told by my neurologist, after he ruled out other causes, that he thought I had long COVID.”
The doctor reasoned that since she contracted COVID-19 at work, her weakened immune system plus the vaccines must have led to the transverse myelitis.
“Both of those things [long COVID and transverse myelitis] arise out of my employment,” Baker said.
Today, Baker remains unable to work and is experiencing further deterioration in her health. “I have started developing some cardiac issues that have been causing a lot of problems with my heart induction [rhythm] and my breathing,” she said.
Workers’ compensation claims offer potential recourse for vaccine injury victims
Baker said her injuries led her to initiate a workers’ compensation claim to try and help others, because “I thought it was a lost cause for me.”
Α chance meeting with a workers’ compensation attorney several months ago led her to believe her claim could succeed.
“My husband and I talked about it,” Baker said, “and in our mind, we had nothing to lose. We were in financial distress, and I had a lifelong disability.”
“My thinking was, if we can open this door for people behind us, imagine what relief that will give to everybody else that got the vaccine, either because of coercion or mandates. That’s what began the workers’ compensation proceedings.”
In a series of interviews in 2022, several workers’ compensation attorneys told The Defender that such claims offer a potential means of recourse for vaccine injury victims who were vaccinated as a result of their employment.
The three attorneys — Ben Carlisle, Ray L. Flores II and Patrick R. Hollingsworth — are experienced in legal issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccine injuries. They said the workers’ compensation program — available in all 50 states — provides an option for employees of businesses that mandated COVID-19 vaccination.
Flores told The Defender in October 2022 that workers’ compensation is “a much easier system to navigate” than the PREP Act (Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act) of 2005 or the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. These are the traditional avenues for submitting claims related to vaccine injuries, but they are exceedingly difficult to navigate successfully.
The lawyers also said that filing a workers’ compensation claim doesn’t preclude an employee from filing claims via other legal channels. However, it does provide the potential to receive immediate financial relief and medical treatment and also — possibly — long-term support.
Because Ohio’s Hospice is self-insured and does not pay into Ohio’s statewide workers’ compensation system, the company told state authorities it will cover claims out of pocket.
As a result, Baker’s claim was heard by the Ohio Industrial Commission instead of the state’s BWC. Baker likened the Industrial Commission to a “little jury trial … with a presiding officer. … You present your case, they present their case, and then the presiding officer decides.”
Baker presented her case before the Industrial Commission twice, on Sept. 28, 2022, and on appeal on Jan. 20. In both instances, her claim was denied within days.
According to Baker, these denials were primarily based on an examination submitted by a doctor hired by her former employer.
“His ultimate conclusion was that my injuries had nothing to do with work, nothing with me working the frontline, nothing to do with the lack of PPE [personal protective equipment] — because we’re fighting for both long COVID and transverse myelitis,” Baker said.
The denials also came despite medical statements from two of Baker’s doctors, documenting her transverse myelitis diagnosis and directly connecting it to her vaccination.
One of the medical statements, dated Sept. 26, 2022, reads:
“Given the timing of her symptom onset and her vaccination administrations, it is very reasonable to conclude that she is now primarily suffering from vaccine injury. The type of injuries that Mrs. Blankley-Baker is experiencing are well-documented to be adverse reactions to the C19 injections.”
In another medical statement, dated Sept. 27, 2022, the doctor agreed that Baker’s COVID-19 vaccination, along with long COVID, “is the cause of [her] health issues related to transverse myelitis.”
“So that’s how they won” this stage of the process, Baker said, referring to her former employer’s claims. She added:
“I worked for the company for 17 years. I dedicated myself — I thought I would retire with them. It’s been hurtful for me to know that a company that takes, or supposedly takes, a holistic community approach is so willing to just toss aside a nurse that had so much time invested into them and just blatantly argue against things that happened.”
Baker also says she and former colleagues were misled by her employer.
“When we got COVID-19, we were not encouraged to fill out the paperwork that we normally would for FMLA [the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993] or for a workplace injury,” Baker said. “We were told, ‘No, you’re a frontline worker, we believe you, you’ll get your coverage.’”
“If I had submitted that paperwork and done it the way that they normally do … then I would’ve had a paper trail. But I was discouraged from it,” she said.
After initial denial of workers’ compensation claim, jury trial scheduled
The two denials at the Ohio Industrial Commission have now set the stage for Baker’s lawsuit against Ohio’s Hospice and the BWC. Baker explained why she decided to sue and what this stage of the process entails:
“Because we lost, appealed, and lost [again] at the Industrial Commission, we had the opportunity to file in the local civil court and be entitled to appear for a jury trial. Ohio Hospice’s lawyers, of course, submitted and said I shouldn’t be given that right, it’s out of the court’s jurisdiction.”
However, “the local judge supported my right for a jury trial,” Baker said.
The lawsuit, Danielle Baker v. Ohio’s Hospice, Inc., was filed on April 3 and is before Judge Jeannine N. Pratt of the Common Pleas Court of Miami County, Ohio.
Following Pratt’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit, three key dates have been set: a settlement conference on Dec. 14, a final pre-trial conference on Jan. 11, 2024, and the trial on Jan. 31, 2024.
“We believe that we have a very strong case,” Baker said. “[The vaccination] wasn’t yet mandated, however, I did take it as a result of being an employee of theirs and for their benefit. So, we think that holds a lot of value.”
Hollingsworth, in a May 23, 2022, presentation, explained that employees also can file workers’ compensation claims in situations where, even without an explicit mandate, an employee faced “coercion, exclusion, discrimination,” where they were “ostracized by their co-workers or it was strongly suggested that they get the vaccine.”
“I believe you would be able to show … causation there, whether your employer requested you to have it, mandated or not,” Hollingsworth said at the time.
‘You don’t need a lawyer to file a claim’
In the event that Baker receives a favorable decision in her jury trial, the case “then goes back to workers’ compensation to oversee the payout,” Baker said.
“Generally, what you are entitled to is past and future lost wages,” she added. “Since I’m completely disabled, that means from now to retirement.”
If successful, Baker would also receive “medical coverage for long COVID, transverse myelitis and any side effects related to the shot.”
Baker said that, as part of a final settlement, there may also be some compensation for the emotional toll. “It has caused so much anxiety and depression and stress. … It has significantly affected us,” she said.
While she believes her former employer was “following the narrative” Baker pointed out, based on emails they sent, “their goal was to have 90% of their staff vaccinated.”
This would then confer financial benefits upon the company, according to Baker.
“From my memory, if you got 90% of your staff vaccinated, then the government would give you money,” she said. Baker later found out that because of the CARES Act, Ohio’s Hospice received $7.2 million. “So, I put the puzzle pieces together and there was a financial motivation,” she added.
Notably, Ohio’s Hospice’s revenues sharply increased in 2020 and increased again in 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the initial setbacks at the Ohio Industrial Commission, Baker encourages others injured by vaccinations related to their employment to pursue a workers’ compensation claim.
“You don’t need a lawyer to file a claim,” Baker said. “If somebody feels that they are injured because of a condition of employment or arising out of employment, file a claim. You don’t have to pursue that claim [immediately]. You can put that on hold temporarily until you get things figured out.”
“The clock for filing does not start the day you got your shot, but the day you are diagnosed with a vaccine injury,” Baker said.
“The worst that’s going to happen is, they’re going to say no, but we have already proven that you can file a workers’ compensation claim, and that’s why we started this whole process,” Baker said, adding:
“It’s gone beyond my expectations because I just want justice for people. Having gone through the system already, though we didn’t win [yet], we did win because we showed that they have to take the case, have to hear it, and have to listen.”
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