Home caregiver Pam Kuras has dutifully tended to her bed-bound patient for more than a month without pay, and said she will continue to, but it's getting more difficult to keep gas in her car and food on her table.
Kuras, of Wilkes-Barre, is one of thousands of caretakers in Pennsylvania providing in-home assistance to the elderly and disabled still waiting for paychecks nearly six weeks after the state outsourced its payroll services.
Starting Jan. 1, the state Department of Public Welfare consolidated payroll services for more than 20,000 recipients of Medicaid waivers for developmental disability and long-term living formerly processed by 37 service companies around the state. It had awarded Public Partnerships LLC, of Boston, a contract for waiver beneficiaries statewide.
Under the Medicaid waiver program, patients eligible to receive in-home care submit their caregivers' timesheets to PPL, which directs Medicaid waiver reimbursements to caregivers as paychecks.
But because some data from the former service companies was not received, was submitted late, was incomplete or did not conform to the new company's requirements, the company has struggled to identify all eligible caregivers, a company spokeswoman said.
Company spokeswoman Dina Baker said payments have not been delayed because timesheets were lost or have not been processed. Rather, timesheets that have not been reimbursed are missing critical data needed to comply with state and federal law, typically because of gaps in data provided by the former service companies.
Public Partnerships has assigned more than 150 staff members to investigate and locate the missing data so workers can be paid. We cut checks every single day… to ensure that pay is getting to them as fast as possible, Baker said.
The Department of Welfare said Wednesday the company has made significant progress in processing the pay it still owes those workers.
But that offered cold comfort for Kuras. The gas company, the electric company, they don't want to hear ‘The check's coming,' Kuras said. You can't go to the store and buy groceries and say ‘I'll pay you next week.'
The department said Public Partnerships has processed about 75 percent of payroll requests for two separate groups of workers, each representing about 12,000 individuals. Caregivers are paid twice a month in two groups, which are paid on alternating weeks. Paychecks for the week ending Dec. 22 were sent Jan. 4, while checks for the week ending Dec. 29 were sent Jan. 11.
According to Welfare Department spokeswoman Donna Kirker Morgan, 73 percent of checks for the first pay period and 74 percent for the second have been processed. Given that each of the two groups represents about 12,000 full- or part-time workers, that means roughly 6,000 workers are still waiting for their first check from the company.
Morgan said the situation is not acceptable, but that the department's executive staff has been working with (Public Partnerships) on an hourly basis.
We want these folks paid and paid correctly, Morgan said. We are working with (Public Partnerships) as much as we are able to. They are the contractor, however.
Medicaid waiver recipients also complained of an inability to get in touch with the company.
Kuras is one of four aides caring for Maria Stahovec's mother, who cannot move because of Parkinson's disease and a head injury, and who breathes through a tracheotomy tube.
Stahovec, of Dallas, said none has been paid, though she has offered them money from her own pocket to tide them over. She called Public Partnerships three times and sent two emails regarding the missed checks before finally getting a call back Wednesday, more than a week later, she said.
These aides are getting $10-and-something an hour to take care of someone's life, and the state doesn't have the respect to get them paid; I can't believe that, Stahovec said. The major concern is: If I were one of them, I would quit and get a job with a paycheck. And if they did quit, I can't hire someone else because I can't say to a new person that the pay is coming.
Linda Williams is a resident of Sullivan Place, a Hanover Township senior living community, and said she relies on an aide to help her with shopping, cleaning and other essential tasks. Her aide has received some pay but not all that is due, she said. Five or six other people in her building who rely on aides also have had problems, she said.
If they're not happy, I'm not happy, said Williams. I want them to be able to pay their bills. So it puts stress on me. People with disabilities have enough health problems and they don't need this added stress: the uncertainty of whether their attendants are going to get paid or not.
Baker acknowledged that high call volume, and the length of time typically spent on each call, has led to a delay in returning calls. The company has returned more than 1,300 calls since Jan. 7, Morgan added.
Baker asked customers not to make multiple calls about the same problems or submit timesheets more than once. The best way we can get back to you is by putting our resources into resolving the issue, and we are working on it every day, Baker said.
According to state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, who said he has received multiple complaints about missed checks and contacted the governor's office about the problem, the governor's office and the legislative affairs division of the Department of Public Welfare have been in contact with Public Partnerships and can help expedite payments.
He encouraged people who are experiencing delays to contact their state legislators for help. He is not satisfied with the excuses Public Partnerships has offered to explain the late paychecks, Pashinski said.
These are people's paychecks; these are people's lives that this affects, said Pashinski. If you're going to give a contract to a company that has the responsibility throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania, the governor and his staff need to know darn well whether the company can accomplish that goal.