Missouri Employers Mutual, the city’s workers’ compensation insurance provider, has reconsidered and will now consider Officer Kendle Blackburn’s COVID-19 related death as “in the line of duty.”
The City of Lebanon learned Friday that Blackburn’s family was being denied the benefits that go along with having a “line of duty” death. On Tuesday afternoon, they learned that the decision had been reversed.
“We are thankful Missouri Employers Mutual made this decision,” Lebanon Mayor JaredCarr said in a statement to the media. “We recognize the sacrifice Officer Blackburn made for our community and while we know he can never be replaced, hopefully these benefits will help ease the burden on Officer Blackburn’s family.”
On Friday, the mayor had argued that Blackburn had “died a hero and sacrificed his life serving the community that he loved.” The city also pointed out that Gov. Mike Parson had signed an executive emergency order that said for workers’ compensation purposes, it should be presumed that first responders who become sick or die from COVID-19 had contracted the virus during the course of their duties.
Parson had also said Blackburn “died in the line of duty…following exposure to coronavirus in the line of duty” in a proclamation asking for all flags to be flown in his honor just after his death.
The mayor also said in the statement that he appreciates the insurance company’s “willingness to work with us on this as they work to understand COVID claims and the presumption order.” He went on to thank Chris Meckem at First State Insurance Agency for helping to facilitate the conversation between the city and Missouri Employers Mutual. He also said the reversal “would not have been possible without the assistance” of the governor, Sen. Sandy Crawford and Rep. Jeff Knight.
Benefits for families of first responders who have died in the line of duty include up to $5,000 in funeral expenses and a weekly death benefit based on a percentage of the deceased’s average pay.
Blackburn died Dec. 28,2020, after a long battle with COVID-19. Blackburn was 55 years old at the time of his death. He had contracted COVID-19 in November while serving as a Lebanon Police officer, according to the city.
Blackburn started his career in the late 1990s. He had been with the department for more than 16 years. He started his career in law enforcement as a Laclede County deputy. Blackburn was a second generation law enforcement officer, as his father Raymond Blackburn was an officer for 45 years.