Lynnette Dockery works as a personal care attendant, also known as a home care worker, seeing to the needs of a Wethersfield woman whose daily regimen requires regularly flushing a stent in her chest.
But on Friday, after submitting her time card on time, Dockery received no pay. Her check was not deposited into her account until sometime on Monday. Dockery was thankful that she had enough food in the fridge to feed herself and her son over the weekend.
“What we do is very important,” Dockery said. “But we can’t continue to live this way.”
Dockery’s story is not unusual, according to officials with the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 SEIU. The union has been dealing with complaints about the non-profit agency that manages the payroll for years, said union Communications Director Pedro Zayas.
On Friday, between 7,000 and 8,000 PCAs didn’t receive the pay which is usually deposited in the morning, according to union officials. About 4,800 received their pay by 5 p.m. that evening. The rest were paid on Monday, he said.
The problem was traced to a “temporary file transmission interruption” at People’s United Bank, according to a bank vice president. The error was spotted late in the day Friday—hours after the home care workers should have been paid—and then rectified so that anyone missing funds would have them by Monday, the executive said.
While Friday’s issue was connected to the bank, it was just the latest in an ongoing series of problems home care workers have reported with payroll for Allied Community Resources, a vendor for the state Department of Social Services, Zayas said.
The union is now asking DSS not to renew Allied’s contract when it comes up for renewal in June, Zayas said.
“The error rate is not acceptable,” Zayas said. “We understand that there will always be errors. But the error rate is too high and the phone customer service culture is horrible. The consequences for these are immense, especially for people who are making $16.25 an hour who have few or no benefits.”
It’s still early for contract negotiations, according to DSS spokesman David Dearborn. DSS was aware of Friday’s problem and actively advocated with the bank in this instance.
But home care workers and their clients said they deal with such issues frequently while trying to get paid. At a time when families are looking to home care options to protect their loved ones from nursing homes, where exposure to coronavirus has been deadly, a recent union survey showed 75% of home care workers said they experienced at least one problem with Allied in the past six months. Fifteen percent said they had experienced six or more problems with Allied in the past six months.
Anyone who calls Allied to rectify a payroll issue waits on hold anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, several people said.
Repeated calls to Allied confirmed that wait times to speak to someone about the issue were at least 15 minutes long. Allied did not return a message seeking comment.
Carol Blackburn of Norwich, who acts as the PCA for her mother with last-stage Alzheimer’s disease, made at least a half-dozen calls Friday to determine why her check wasn’t deposited. She uses the money to fill in for necessities, including her mother’s medication.
“It’s making my life more stressful on top of caring for my mother,” Blackburn said.
One person Blackburn spoke with said it was because the payroll wasn’t submitted on time. Another laughed when she asked if they had gotten paid on time this week.
Blackburn also had problems getting access to pay stubs she needs to apply for social services. “They were emailing everyone pay stubs, but three weeks ago they suddenly stopped,” Blackburn said. “I called, but no one calls you back.”
Sharon Thorstenson lost three of her home care workers in late 2018 because they weren’t being paid for six weeks of work that occurred months before, the Southington resident said. Thorstenson is bedridden except for when she’s in a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care, she said.
“I don’t know how many times we submitted the time sheets, but they kept saying they never received them,” Thorstenson said. “You get placed on hold for an hour on a good day. All three quit because of Allied. I was devastated.”
Her son finally stepped in and gets paid to act as her home care worker, but he’s facing similar problems dealing with Allied, she said. He was denied health insurance because he couldn’t produce recent pay stubs which Allied had stopped supplying, she said.
They later found out that the pay stubs had been moved to an online portal – which had not been announced, she said. “Throughout the entire time I’ve had this program, I can’t count how many times there was a payroll issue,” Thorstenson said.
Dockery had a several-week spurt in 2019 when she didn’t get paid due to a paperwork problem with her client. She had to go on unemployment to keep some money coming in and her landlord was threatening eviction. Then she said she had to argue for her back pay, which took another month or so to receive.
“This is happening once or twice a month,” Dockery said. “And when they do that, you have to wait another week to get paid. It completely throws you off. Like anyone else, I have certain bills that are taken out so now I’m getting $35 fees because the money isn’t there.”