Company's mistake creates pay delays for injured city workers

Address errors lead to hundreds of complaints

December 17, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Ever since he injured his back and knee in 1993, laborer Daniel J. Liberto has relied on his $219 weekly workers' compensation checks to buy food and to keep his lights on.

For nine years, the checks arrived at his modest apartment in Glen Burnie like clockwork. But last month, the city privatized its workers' compensation system - and Liberto suddenly found himself cut off.

"It's the holidays, and I'm using rags to put on my child because I don't even have enough money for diapers," said Liberto, 37, a former city public works laborer who said he had surgery several times to insert metal plates in his back.

"I have four children, and I cannot even buy them presents for Christmas because my checks have stopped arriving," Liberto said.

Liberto is among a number of injured city workers who haven't received their checks because of addressing problems by a company hired to run the city workers' compensation system, city officials said.

The company, CompManagement Inc., received a $6 million contract on Aug. 14 to manage about 7,000 cases of injured workers.

An American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees representative said his office has received hundreds of complaints about missing checks, workers being forced to return to work before they're healed and other problems since the city hired CompManagement and Mercy Medical Center to save money and to improve efficiency.

Mercy received a $4 million contract as part of a plan to close a city-run health clinic and to cut 42 city employees. But many injured workers complained about daylong lines and poor care.

"It's been a nightmare," said Duane Baysmore, chief shop steward with AFSCME Local 44, which represents 5,000 city workers. "In the city's rush to outsource, they didn't check if the companies could handle it."

It's the third glitch with privatization efforts this year. The city laid off 41 parks department janitors in July and replaced them with contractors, but then moved to fire one of the firms because the company wasn't performing up to par.

"These sort of growing pains and operational glitches are inevitable whenever you make a change," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We will resolve the issues."

The city's finance director, Peggy Watson, said the number of late or wrongly addressed workers' compensation checks was fewer than 30.

"There is no excuse for any problems," Watson said. "I don't know why he [Liberto] hasn't gotten his checks."

City officials said the problem apparently arose because the company didn't use the most recent address file. Some of the weekly checks they started mailing on Nov. 20 came back as returned mail because they had incorrect addresses.

Jackie Orr, director of the Ohio-based company's 40-employee office at 300 E. Lombard St., said that the problem was minor and would be fixed immediately.

"We took over a tremendous caseload, and there may have been a few cases of people whose addresses were not correct," Orr said. "We are working diligently to make sure the problem is resolved."

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