Workers, clients feel stuck in limbo

FAIRMONT – Diane Flint of Blue Earth is just one of many employees still working for Crystal Care Home Health Services, even though she says the company hasn’t paid most of them since early July.

Flint says she first started noticing problems in March, when paychecks began to bounce. She got letters apologizing for the inconvenience and asking for patience while the company figured out a new pay schedule, but the problems continued, until the paychecks stopped altogether.

The personal care assistant has been with Crystal Care for four years, and she says she loves her colleagues and her clients like family, so she stuck it out.

She has been assured those hours have been billed – 327 so far – and she should be getting the money she is owed, but it won’t come soon enough for many of her co-workers.

“I know of employees down here who are going to lose their homes,” she said. “… I’m fortunate. I have parents to help me.”

Relief may be coming for Flint, when HealthStar Home Health eventually takes over operations. The Sentinel obtained a copy of a letter in which the North St. Paul company tells Crystal Care workers that their employer “is no longer able to continue operations and over the next several weeks will be closing their doors.”

The business is working to transfer clients and employees, and will be “working closely with an attorney to collect the funds due Crystal Care in an expedited manner which will be used to pay for wages until such time that the employees are fully transitioned to HealthStar Home Health. It is our expectation that this process will begin next week,” president Tim Lively wrote in a letter dated Aug. 31.

Clients, however, have received no such notice, says patient Carla Twito. The Truman woman, who has received in-home assistance from Crystal Care for a year and a half, has been in the dark about the troubles the company has experienced, except for what she has heard through the media and from employees.

Several personal care assistants have come and gone from Twito’s home since mid-May, when they began quitting when they could no longer count on getting paid.

“I don’t blame them,” Twito said. “These gals, they can’t work for someplace where they’re not getting their paychecks.”

For three weeks, no one has come to help Twito, who suffers from fibromyalgia and spinal issues that make it difficult for her to do basic housework.

“I sit at home and feel sorry for myself, and then think, ‘Oh my God’ – I know one guy from Fairmont who’s a quadraplegic. He’s supposed to have 24-hour care – and I think, ‘Oh my God, is anyone caring for him?’ And then I realize there are other people in worse shape than me.”

Twito isn’t sure what she should do, and she knows she is not alone in this either.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what to do. Do I fire them and start over?” she asks.

An employee with the state Department of Human Services encourages consumers who need help with home health care services to call the Senior LinkAge line at 1-800-333-2433 or the Disability Linkage Line at 1-866-333-2466.

Crystal Care is currently under investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Services for Medicaid fraud.

Crystal Care’s Fairmont office referred questions about the company’s status to headquarters, where no one was available for comment.