NYPD cops debilitated by COVID hope for city's disability pensions
“I have an oxygen tank with me 24/7 and I need assistance with everything," said Lt. Yvan Pierre Louis
By Rocco Parascandola
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — COVID-19 ended their careers — and now a small group of New York police officers hopes the city grants them the same disability pensions they would get for any other injury suffered in the line of duty.
“I have an oxygen tank with me 24/7 and I need assistance with everything — to take a shower, to walk, to go up and down the staircase,” said Lt. Yvan Pierre Louis, a 31-year veteran who was given last rites when he got COVID early in the pandemic and was in a coma for 168 days.
Whether Pierre Louis and other cops badly sickened by coronavirus will be granted pensions will be decided by the board of the city Police Pension Fund.
In the last months of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, city officials declined to approve COVID-19 pensions until disabilities linked to the disease can be studied further.
It is not clear yet how Mayor Adams’ administration will deal with this issue. But the cops involved say they can’t work, and would like to provide for their families as best they can while they grapple with life-changing medical woes.
“I’m not the same person I was before,” said Pierre Louis, 60, who took sick in March 2020 while working with prisoners at Manhattan Central Booking, at 100 Centre St.
“There were no masks,” he said. “The only people who had masks were the judges and the lawyers. I worked there one day, but one day was enough to make me sick.”
He’s been out sick ever since and will likely be ruled disabled by the NYPD when he files for retirement.
Whether Pierre Louis gets a disability pension could hinge on what the Pension Board decides in the case of Detective Mike Smith.
The veteran Bronx detective boasts he never took a sick day in more than 30 years on the force until he was stricken — which he thinks might have happened either when he interviewed a stabbing victim at St. Barnabas Hospital, or on a visit to Rikers Island.
Like Pierre Louis, Smith, 58, ended up on a ventilator and was given last rites, and still pulled through.
He’s a shell of his former self, and at one point was so weak he couldn’t lift the iPad his family gave him while he was in the hospital. He has Stage 4 kidney disease, nerve damage in his feet and hardened arteries in his ankles.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m one blood test away from being back on dialysis,” Smith said. “The old saying: ‘Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?’ I can’t, because I have stabilization issues. I have to concentrate when I walk because if I don’t, I stumble.”
NYPD doctors declared him disabled, unable to ever work again as a cop. But for now, he is out sick, and also waiting to see if the Police Pension Fund approves his disability pension.
To get a pension, Smith and other COVID-stricken cops will need a majority vote from the Pension Fund’s 12-member board of trustees. The police unions have six votes on the board, and various city officials, including the mayor and police commissioner, have the other six votes.
Nick Cifuni, a disability lawyer who works for four of the police unions, said the city in recent months appeared concerned that approving forever-sick cops for disability pensions could open the floodgates if other officers are similarly afflicted.
A key question, Cifuni said, is whether Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell will side with the unions. The NYPD on Friday wouldn’t say if Sewell has taken a position on the issue.
Lou Turco, who heads the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, noted that cops “have not had the luxury of working from home or not coming to work.”
Smith, who on some days exercises as much as possible and on others spends 20 hours in bed, hopes the city realizes he and others like him are not looking for a handout — rather a just compensation for working through a pandemic while much of the city was shut down.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” he said. “All of us did.”
Paul DiGiacomo, head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said the city has “an obligation to provide Mike every and any type of line-of-duty benefit possible.”
“He earned it, and deserves nothing less,” DiGiacomo said.
[With Michael Gartland]
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