Retirement board discontinues firefighter’s disability pension

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Retirement Board has voted unanimously to discontinue the accidental disability pension of former Providence firefighter John Sauro.

The board made the decision after a medical subcommittee met behind closed doors for more than an hour reviewing the results of a medical report written by a Massachusetts orthopedic surgeon of the city’s choosing.

“The subcommittee after reviewing that evidence resulted with a recommendation to the full board that he no longer had the sustaining injury that led to the original disability,” said board chairman Larry Mancini.

Sauro’s benefits were briefly reinstated last month after he visited a doctor of the city’s choosing.

His pension came into question in 2011 in the wake of a Target 12 undercover investigation that found him vigorously working out at a gym, despite being deemed too injured to work. He was collecting a $3,900 monthly tax-free disability pension for a shoulder injury he said he got on the job in 1998.

Shortly after the vote, Sauro met with Target 12 at his home. The 52 year-old was noticeably thinner, he said he had stopped lifting weights in the wake of his pension case.

Sauro showed Eyewitness News various medical reports that he says dispute the findings of the doctor.

In a letter to the city summarizing his findings, provided by Sauro, Dr. Brian McKeon called it a “complex case” listed off numerous mental and physical injuries that Sauro was suffering from, but referred to the injury to his right shoulder – for which he was awarded the disability pension – as “trivial.”

But he concluded Sauro was too disabled to return to work as a firefighter.

“I believe the patient is disabled because of the other issues, but not relative to the right shoulder,” McKeon wrote.

McKeon is an orthopedic surgeon and the chief medical officer for the Boston Celtics, according to the New England Baptist Hospital website.

Sauro said in the same letter the doctor contradicted himself by stating Sauro required surgery on his shoulder.

“I would say that most patients in my experience who have small rotator cuff tears have surgery and go on to have a successful result and get back to work,” McKeon wrote.

Sauro also showed the results of an MRI he says were ordered by his own doctor which state four injuries to his shoulder, including a “partial tear of the supraspinatus tendon” and a small “type II SLAP tear.”

He said his own doctor said he would require four surgeries but that he was not a candidate for them.

“Are they going to offer my job back and put others at risk,” Sauro said. “Both the public and other firefighters?”

The ball is now in Sauro’s court. He can fight the decision in superior court, he already filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city after officials suspended his pension benefits in 2013.

Board Chairman Larry Mancini also said it was possible Sauro could attempt to get a lesser pension like a regular service pension or an ordinary disability pension, for an injury not sustained on the job.

Sauro said he was unsure what he was going to do next because he has not received anything official from the city. But he said he would be willing to consider several options.

“Do I want them out of my life? Absolutely,” he said.

Neither Sauro nor his attorneys were present at the retirement board’s meeting on Wednesday. Sauro said that was because he thought it would be “pointless” since he felt the board had already made up its mind.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza released a statement in response to the board’s decision, saying:

“It was apparent to anyone who watched the video that Mr. Sauro was abusing our public disability pension system. I commend the Retirement Board for taking the appropriate action in voting to discontinue Mr. Sauro’s accidental disability pension. This sends a clear message that abuse of our public resources will not be tolerated.”

Sauro pushed back at the mayor’s comments by supplying a 2011 medical report from a doctor of the city’s choosing which stated “the exercises he performed were in a controlled setting and this would not be the case in an emergent life determining setting.

Shaun Towne contributed to this report

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