Family of 911 call center employee mourning after he died from COVID-19

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — The family of a 911 call center operator is mourning after their loved one died from COVID-19. They are worried there are not enough safety precautions being taken for other call center employees. 

Russell Modjeski had worked in the 911 call center on West Madison for 20 years. He was only 60 years old when he died on March 29. His family is afraid he got sick while on duty.

Modjeski was a quiet man who dearly loved his family. They said he loved to cook and he often prepared food for his coworkers at the 911 call center.

His family said there was not much done at work in regards to COVID-19 safety precautions. His family says he passed out at his desk in late March and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. He died about a week later, after suffering from COVID-19 and eventually a heart attack. He also had diabetes.

“He said that precautions weren’t taking except for hand sanitizer on peoples’ desks and that he voiced his concern for the safety of his coworkers,” Hannah Modjeski, his daughter, said. 

His family is now mourning at home, quarantined for their own safety. His mother-in-law, who also lives with the family, has just tested positive.

“We’re forced to mourn alone,” Modjeski’s daughter, said. “We cant have contact with family or friends. There’s no one we can hug for support. We lost my dad way too young and  it just makes it that much harder.”

“He was just a dedicated employee to the city and he was a civil servant for 20 years so it was just a little hurtful that that they are acknowledging the other departments,” Kelly Hamilton, Modjeski’s wife, said. “Other families probably feel like we did.”

His family said he was worried about his health and the safety of his coworkers. The call center is densely populated and workers share desks and equipment.

“Really no one from 911 has reached out to our home by letter or card,” Hamilton said. “I really just think he should be acknowledged.”

Employees provided WGN letters from the city confirming that at least 10 workers at the same call center have tested positive for the virus. The first employee got sick around March 23. They said the facility has been thoroughly cleaned and they were trying to move people around to different buildings for better social distancing. Some 911 operators said they feel sick but can’t risk losing their jobs by staying home.

Modjeski’s coworkers said more could have been done to prevent his death.

“Right now we’re operating on skeleton staff because there’s so many people getting sick at our job,” a 911 operator said.

WGN reached out to both the mayor’s office and OEMC. The mayor’s did not respond but OEMC provided the following statement:

“OEMC is incredibly saddened to confirm that one of our 9-1-1 call takers, Russell Modjeski, passed away on March 29th.  Russ was not only a member of the OEMC family for over 20 years, but also an all-around good person and friend to many.  He was a hard worker, a dedicated employee, and his contributions to 9-1-1 in the City of Chicago will not be forgotten.  Our sympathies are extended to his family and friends as well co-workers.  

OEMC has had 12 positive cases on 911 floor, including Modjeski. Since March, OEMC has taken steps to increase sanitation and social distancing in the facility.  Specifically, facility-related efforts at OEMC in light of COVID-19 include:

  • We have increased the frequency of cleaning – our custodial provider disinfects each 9-1-1 console 3x per day, across all watches, as well as common areas.
  • We have changed all cleaning disinfectant to a higher grade.
  • We provided each individual 9-1-1 console with individual hand sanitizer.
  • We are pro-actively disinfecting all touch-screen monitors on the 9-1-1 floor throughout the day on all watches.
  • We provided stylus pens for 9-1-1 call takers to limit touching of the screens.
  • We installed additional hand sanitizer dispensers at 1411 W. Madison to ensure presence at the elevator entrance on every floor.
  • Our building engineers recently changed all filters at each 9-1-1 console.
  • We have placed air purifiers throughout the 9-1-1 floor.
  • We have suspended access to non-essential personnel to our facility, which includes tour group and other large trainings.
  • To increase the stay-at-home order and to reduce the number of personnel in the 9-1-1 facility, we relocated our Emergency Operations Center to the Police Training Academy and extended telework to our administrative functions to limit access to 1411 W. Madison. 
  • We continue to spread out the 9-1-1 floor by assigning select 9-1-1 positions to the training rooms as well as the alternate response section facility at 2111 W. Lexington.
  • We have suspended in-person roll calls and are instead distributing this information in hard copy and electronic format.
  • Employees are allowed to wear cloth face coverings at work. Masks are available onsite.
  • Employees must stay home if they are sick and are encouraged to wash their hands often.”

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