Up to 263 workers at mental health hospital wait to hear if they have a job – Palm Beach Post

Posted: October 17, 2019 at 6:49 pm

This post was added by Alex Diaz-Granados

Several employees at the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health are unsure of the status of their jobs.

As many as 263 workers at a faltering West Palm Beach mental health hospital arent sure whether they have jobs.

Amid financial struggles, the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health isnt accepting new patients and has discontinued most of its programs, but it hasnt notified many of its 347 employees whether they are laid off.

Many employees say they arent scheduled to work and are unsure if or when theyll return.

Its been like this for weeks, said one employee who got notice last Thursday that she was laid off, while some of her colleagues still are waiting to hear from management. I feel like Im on a lifeboat and Im watching the Titanic sink.

The Golden Center in September filed for bankruptcy protection, revealing years of financial struggles. Since the bankruptcy filing, the center has relinquished management of its 44-bed facility to South County Mental Health Center in Delray Beach.

The center closed half of its beds and isnt accepting new patients. They were treating just nine as of Tuesday, said South County Chief Executive Officer Joe Speicher.

The Golden Center, on 45th Street near St. Marys Medical Center, withdrew its bankruptcy filing on Oct. 8 to entertain offers from for-profit companies interested in buying the hospital.

But officials from the Golden Center, a critical facility for low-income or uninsured patients in central and northern Palm Beach County, havent publicly said how many employees are laid off.

Those who arent scheduled to work say their puzzling employment status prevents them from getting severance or state unemployment pay.

A lot of people are afraid theyve lost their jobs, but that the center did it in a sneaky way: by taking us off the schedule, said Christine America, a registered nurse who has worked at the center for two years. As far as Jerome Golden saying, 'Sorry, you dont have a job, or giving pink slips, I havent heard a thing.

Even the agency that oversees the Golden Center, Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, and South County Mental Health say they arent sure how many employees have been laid off.

The Golden Center has that information but hasnt shared it, said officials from both Southeast Behavioral and South County Mental Health.

None of us know the ramification of this yet, Speicher said.

South County hired 50 of the Golden Centers employees to help slowly reopen the hospital, Speicher said.

Thirty-four workers were laid off shortly after the bankruptcy filing.

The center hasnt commented on the status of the other 263 employees. Chairman of the Golden Center board, Jimmy Miller, and interim Chief Executive Officer David Light could not be reached by phone Wednesday.

In an Oct. 10 email to staff, provided to The Palm Beach Post by an employee, Miller wrote that all workers except for a small group of employees who have already been identified to help wind down the center were laid off that day. The email said staffers would get a letter from human resources with information.

But several employees say they havent gotten letters.

Some of the workers were hired by outside agencies, like South County or Legacy Health, contracted to take over the Golden Centers case management, employees told The Post.

Please understand that the center has been doing everything it can to try and avoid this situation, and we understand how upsetting this is, Miller wrote in the email. We ask you to please continue to act professionally as we all begin to heal and move forward.

The former chief executive officer, Linda De Piano, announced her retirement shortly after the bankruptcy filing. She earned $228,000 in 2017, the centers tax filings show.

The centers chief medical officer, Suresh Rajpara, earned $408,000 that year. Rajpara suggested in early October that he might resign, Miller told The Post on Oct. 3.

The center blamed its financial state on years of losses. The Golden Center just ran out of money, Miller said.

The bankruptcy filing came just a month after the centers Chief Financial Officer Alan Heide pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a payday loan scheme.

Heide abruptly resigned in August, two weeks before he was indicted for his role in a Ponzi scheme that federal prosecutors say bilked at least $50 million from investors.

Heides indictment prompted the Golden Center board to scrutinize its finances. Thats when board members learned how deeply in debt the center was, Miller told The Post in an Oct. 3 interview.

Heide misrepresented the centers financial health in monthly reports to the board, Miller said. Despite this and Heides financial crimes, the center hasnt hired a forensic accountant to examine transactions and bank statements to find out whether fraud played a role in its financial state.

Paying a forensic accountant would be too costly, Miller said.

The center was operating on a $2 million a year deficit, according to The Posts review of the Golden Centers tax filings and annual financial audits.

lramadan@pbpost.com

@luluramadan

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Up to 263 workers at mental health hospital wait to hear if they have a job - Palm Beach Post

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