Delayed pay could threaten Long-Term Living program
John Lorence Jr. needs help getting out of bed. He needs help bathing, dressing, eating and getting to work.
For almost two decades, personal care attendants paid through a state-run program have helped him do all those things. Now Lorence fears he will lose that help as a change in the program has led to delayed and inaccurate paychecks for the attendants.
“I fear for my life,” said Lorence, 57, of Carmichaels in Greene County. He has spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that causes muscle damage and weakness.
“Workers can’t continue to not be paid on a timely basis,” Lorence said. “They have to move on to somewhere that does.”
In a state Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Long-Term Living program, nearly 22,000 people like Lorence serve as their attendants’ employers. Entities known as financial management services providers act as intermediaries to issue their paychecks, purchase workers’ compensation insurance and handle other accounting tasks. Financial management services are funded with state and federal dollars through Medicaid.
In January, Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander announced a plan to consolidate those providers and eventually reduce their total from 37 to three.
Christian Financial Management in Troy Hill is one of the companies assuming responsibility for the payments. Lorence and others report an array of problems in dealing with the company during the transition, from inaccuracies in pay to delays in receiving checks.
On Friday afternoon, attendants and their employers packed the company’s office expressing similar frustrations. One of Lorence’s attendants, Terri Johnson, 47, of Dilliner in Greene County, was among them. She said her water company shut off her service when she couldn’t pay a bill because of a delayed check. As of Friday, she had yet to receive her last paycheck, including holiday pay for the Fourth of July.
“I’m tired of playing,” she said. “I want them to hand me a paycheck today.”
Staffers told the crowd that the high number of calls they’ve received over the past few weeks has overloaded the company’s Internet-based phone system, rendering callers unable to get through. It’s also disrupted the company’s ability to access faxed and online records verifying attendants’ hours.
India Christian, company president, said Comcast is working to fix the problem, which could take up to three weeks. She urged attendants to “stop calling and coming in.”
“It’s slowing down the process,” she said outside the office, where a crowd of about a dozen people shouted their concerns and demanded answers.
Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare, said the change was not a result of any cuts in state funding, but instead was a way for the state to “streamline” services. She said the department still has 37 providers, but Christian Financial picked up cases when another provider dropped out.
“Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, this was not a smooth transition. However, our office of Long-Term Living and Christian Financial have been working around the clock to get everything up and running again.”
The change affected 1,700 attendants who care for their employers’ personal hygiene, prepare meals or transport them to appointments so they can remain in their homes.
Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, wrote to Gov. Tom Corbett on behalf of those affected.
“Without payment, I worry that attendants will be unable to provide adequate care and a tragedy may ensue,” he wrote. “I ask that you intervene and expedite this payroll transition in order to avoid any additional harm to this program or its personal care attendants.”
Lorence has four attendants who rotate shifts for 12.75 hours each day. They’ve been paid by Christian Financial since May, though rarely on time or for an accurate amount, he said.
He calls the situation an “all-out assault on the independence of people with disabilities.” He’s contacted both the Office of Long-Term Living and Christian Financial repeatedly with little success.
Shelia DeWitt, 38, one of Lorence’s attendants, said when her checks are several days late, it’s difficult for her to budget.
“Most attendants live paycheck to paycheck,” said DeWitt, who is paid $9 an hour for 25 to 35 hours a week. “When it doesn’t come on time, you have to borrow from other people.”
However, she said she has no plans to quit.
“If I don’t show up, John doesn’t get out of bed,” she said.