Missing money

Published 11:30 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Caring Hand Home Health Care Services on West Washington Street was locked on Monday when employees came to pick up their paychecks.

Dozens of local workers are frustrated, confused and angry that they haven’t been paid since last month, and they can’t find their employer.

Home health care nurses who work with A Caring Hand Home Health Care Services — between 30 and 200 of them, depending upon whom you ask — say their pay has been spotty or non-existent for the past month. Paychecks have been delayed, checks have bounced, or the pay has never come, they say.

“She owes us weeks of pay,” said Stephanie Bradshaw. “My bills are behind. What if somebody’s lights get cut off because of her?”

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The business is owned by Janice Wright-Holland (no relation to a well-known former Suffolk Public Schools administrator), and her husband, Troy Holland, according to the company’s website.

The employees say that officials of some government agency were at the office last month, taking records and computers. Neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit — both of which employees named as possibly being the investigators they saw — responded to inquiries about the possibility of an investigation by their agencies.

“I’ve got bills to pay,” said Mary Duck, another employee. “I have kids. I need my money because I’ve got to feed my kids.”

The Hollands did not respond to numerous messages left at six different telephone numbers listed for their business during the past two weeks, nor did they reply to two emails to their business address or to a message slipped through the door at the locked West Washington Street office on Monday.

The News-Herald independently interviewed nine employees for this story, but only four agreed to give their names. Besides differing on the number of employees the company has, all told the same story.

A group of employees arrived at the office on Monday after they received phone calls telling them they could pick up their paychecks that day, they said. When they found the office locked, they called the police.

The responding police officer told them it was a civil matter that should be handled in civil court.

According to the company’s website, it was established in 2006 by Wright-Holland.

“Mrs. Wright-Holland’s passion for health care has driven her success in maintaining a unique customer base in Suffolk,” says the website. The company also has an office on Armory Drive in Franklin.

The problems apparently started on Oct. 17, when employees said they didn’t receive any checks. The employees were being paid every Monday, they said.

Some employees eventually got paid part of that check in cash. Others said they received checks that bounced at banks and stores where they tried to cash them. Some local businesses have even started refusing to try to cash their paychecks, employees said.

“It messed my checking account up,” said Tara Taylor. She said she was sometimes asked to wait until the day after payday to cash her checks.

The employees then were told they were being moved to bi-weekly pay. Their next payday was to have been Monday.

The employees said they received phone calls from an office manager on Monday morning, telling them they could pick up their checks that afternoon. Arriving at the office, they found the office door locked.

Some of them already have moved on. They’ve looked for other jobs and transferred their patients to other companies. But some don’t have that option.

They’ve considered going to court, but it costs money to file a civil claim — money they don’t have.

“Some of my bills, I told them last week I could have the money today,” Bradshaw said. “Now I have to go tell them I still don’t have the money.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Nov. 10, the day after this story ran in the newspaper, the Federal Bureau of Investigation acknowledged its agents did have a presence at A Caring Hand Home Healthcare Services about three weeks before. On the same day, the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, which handles the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, said it would “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence” of an investigation.