Late payments squeeze those who care for elderly, disabledNumerous group homes that care for adults with disabilities and the elderly in south-central Wisconsin say they're enduring frustration and financial hardship because a state contractor has fallen behind in paying them for their services, sometimes by two months or more.
By: By Doug Erickson/The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Numerous group homes that care for adults with disabilities and the elderly in south-central Wisconsin say they're enduring frustration and financial hardship because a state contractor has fallen behind in paying them for their services, sometimes by two months or more.
The delays led state officials to step in and require the contractor, Care Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, to make emergency payments to some providers to keep them afloat while the billing problem is being fixed.
Ken Eimers, Care Wisconsin's chief operating officer, said the organization has paid out $6.4 million in emergency funding in the last three weeks to help 160 providers make payroll and cover bills. He blamed the problem on a switch to a new third-party billing vendor and said the issue is close to resolution.
"The bottom line is, they will be getting paid," he said.
Providers say the delayed payments started in November and have made it difficult to stay in business.
"It's been really rough on so many people," said Amy Dzioba, who operates two adult family homes with eight clients in Fort Atkinson.
Dzioba said she had to take out a $3,000 loan in December to make payroll, then laid off all six employees last week because Care Wisconsin was two months behind in paying her. She's now working around the clock with the help of friends and family members to staff her business.
The state Department of Health Services, which administers the contract, has been "very aggressively" working with Care Wisconsin since early January, said Susan Crowley, who oversees the state's long-term care division.
"This is clearly an operational issue (on Care Wisconsin's part)," Crowley said, adding it is "very unfortunate" that the payment problems have "produced hardship for many providers."
Care Wisconsin has a decades-long history of providing services in Dane County, primarily for the elderly. In 2008, it greatly expanded its scope and service area, becoming a state contractor in nine more counties and quadrupling its client base.
The organization now has clients in 3,500 facilities. Many are small providers such as Joane McCloskey, who cares for one client through Care Wisconsin in her rural Dane County home.
McCloskey said she got a paycheck in mid-November, then didn't get another until Feb. 5. By then, Care Wisconsin owed her more than $5,500.
Other providers are large entities such as Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which operates about 40 group homes in Wisconsin. It received no payments for November or December until early February, said regional director Jan Zwart. By then, Care Wisconsin owed Bethesda about $1 million for 100 clients, she said.
Zwart called Care Wisconsin a good agency that may be in the midst of growing pains.
Eimers, the Care Wisconsin executive, acknowledged "a lot of growth in a short period of time." The organization switched vendors Nov. 1 to save money and to move to a more automated system for processing invoices, he said.
The new vendor, TriZetto, based in Newport Beach, Calif., declined comment. Eimers said TriZetto experienced problems integrating a large number of new accounts into its system. Care Wisconsin has confidence in the company going forward, he said.
Care Wisconsin's contract with the state requires it to pay providers within 30 days of receiving an accurate claim. Crowley, the state administrator, said the state intervened on behalf of providers when this time line stopped being met. The emergency payments were the result. She said the state will be reviewing its contract with Care Wisconsin for "expectations around claim payments."
Mark Lamkins, communications manager for Care Wisconsin, said the payment problem has affected "many but not all" of the 3,500 providers in the organization's network. The organization expects to be paying bills within the 30-day time frame by the end of March, he said.
Meanwhile, providers said they have become frustrated trying to get answers.
"I send my stuff to (TriZetto) and I don't hear anything back," said Robert Liddicoat, a small provider in Madison.
"This has been a nightmare," said Julie Urdahl of Fort Atkinson, who cares for 11 clients at three sites in Jefferson County.
Urdahl said she drained her son's college savings account and accepted a $7,000 advance from Care Wisconsin to pay bills. "We can't continue to operate like this," she said.
Jefferson County has a particularly large number of adult family homes, in part because it is home to St. Coletta of Wisconsin, an organization that once housed hundreds of people with developmental disabilities on a campus in Jefferson.
Kathi Cauley, director of the Jefferson County Human Services Department, said she's heard from many providers, including one who had to mortgage properties to pay bills. She worries about both the providers and the clients, whom she refers to as consumers.
"If we have providers in distress, then we have consumers in distress," she said. "They experience the stress the providers do."
Copyright (c) 2010, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.