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Integra employees testify in OSHA inquiry into Stephanie Nicole Ross' stabbing death

Published May 9, 2014

TAMPA — Employees of a health management company facing fines after the fatal stabbing of a case manager in Dade City testified Thursday that workers received training and were encouraged to use the buddy system when in unsafe situations.

"At the end of the day, we're asking people to avoid any situation that shows any indication of danger," Integra CEO Michael Yuhas said. "Remove yourself immediately. Notify your supervisor."

Yuhas was one of several staffers from the Maryland-based company who took the witness stand at a hearing held to determine whether the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's $10,500 fine against the firm should stand. The agency levied the fines after the Dec. 10, 2012, death of Stephanie Nicole Ross, a 25-year-old USF graduate from Lakeland who had gone to work for Integra a few months earlier.

As a service coordinator, Ross was expected to contact "high-cost" Medicaid recipients with chronic conditions to make sure they took medicines and kept doctor appointments, with the goal of keeping them out of the emergency room.

On the day she died, Ross was visiting the home of Lucious Smith, a man with a history of violence and severe mental illness. Authorities said Smith chased Ross with a kitchen knife, stabbing her multiple times as neighbors tried to help. Smith is charged with first-degree murder and remains hospitalized and unfit for trial.

Ross' family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the company in February. That case is ongoing.

OSHA cited the company for failing to have a workplace violence prevention policy and for failing to report Ross' death to the agency.

The hearing began with testimony from OSHA investigator Jason Prymmer, who said workers told him that the training was mainly online and that caseworkers were not required to sit in on weekly conference calls. He said the calls dealt mainly with how to relate to clients and not with worker safety.

On Thursday, employee Jessica Cooney, who spent a year and half as a service coordinator, testified that she visited Tampa at least twice beginning in May 2012 to help provide training. She said several workers shadowed her for at least a day while she showed them how to do their jobs.

"I just don't come down and show PowerPoints and then leave," she said.

But U.S. Department of Labor attorney Lydia Chastain questioned Cooney's credentials.

"So your year and a half of being a service coordinator is what you're relying on?" she said.

Administrative Law Judge Dennis Phillips asked Cooney about her education.

Cooney, who said she is working on her bachelor's degree, answered that she attends a community college and is not sure whether she holds an associate's degree.

"I pieced my education together," she said. "I honestly don't even know if I made it all the way to an associate's degree."

The hearing is expected to conclude today, with a ruling expected later.

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