Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
An audit of the state Department of Public Welfare found the consolidation of payroll services for home care workers was botched, leading to pay delays for at least four thousand workers.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday that workers were the collateral damage when a contract went to a single payroll provider that was not ready for prime time.
"You gotta have better oversight of the program," DePasquale said. "That means there's got to be real dates, there's gotta be real timelines, real items to be met."
The Boston-based Public Partnerships Limited received a multimillion dollar contract in 2012 from the state to take over financial management for home care workers that previously were serviced by more than 30 organizations throughout Pennsylvania.
The audit found DPW mismanaged the various payroll organizations severely, but instead of correcting compliance problems, the agency chose to consolidate all the services under a single firm. DePasquale also said the contracting process raised "red flags" that showed PPL was given preferential treatment over other vendors competing for the contract it was awarded.
DPW Secretary Bev Mackereth said she stands by the agency, which executed the contract before she became secretary. She added that she wished there had been more communication with workers. She said things are running smoothly now for workers who have completed necessary paperwork.
"We do know that 100 percent of the people who have submitted the documentation have been paid within the two weeks," Mackereth said.
Health care worker unions, in a conference call Thursday, called for a criminal investigation into DPW's decision, under former Sec. Gary Alexander, to contract with PPL. DePasquale said his agency has not referred the audit to the state attorney general's office for further investigation. He would not say why.
During the press conference, DePasquale leveled accusations that PPL's paperwork was far from straightforward, and that it is difficult to get guidance from the firm.
Payroll for some workers was fouled up for several weeks. They did receive back-pay, but DePasquale said their lives were interrupted, as was the care of some of their clients. He said the state this year will spend $7 million more because clients switched to costlier forms of home care.
One such payroll provider saw the problems coming down the pike.
"We were screaming long before the effective date of the switch," said Kathleen Kleinmann, director of TRIPIL, a Washington County agency that matches disabled people with home care attendants. "We could see it coming. And nobody listened." She said it was obvious to her there would be pay delays because the payroll management consolidation wasn't being phased in gradually enough.
"It was 'damn the torpedoes, we're moving ahead, and these people will just have to deal with it,'" Kleinmann said. "And that's what happened." She said her organization was able to help its home care workers, who had been working as independent contractors, to start working as employees of TRIPIL Services.
"We saw people getting crushed, and in Washington, Pennsylvania, we got them off the railroad track," she said," adding that other payroll providers weren't able to adapt so quickly, leaving workers - and their clients - with few options.
This entry has been updated since its original posting.
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