December 10, 2019; CBS News
When things at your nonprofit just don’t seem right, what should you do? Your work, which you love, continues, but suddenly you are getting smaller, paper paychecks, your insurance plan is now an expensive COBRA plan, and you are not getting information or explanations. Colleagues are rationing their medications and worried about paying their bills.
Agency management says that large amounts of funds are owed from state agencies and insurance (managed care) organizations. As a staff member, you might feel trapped and confused. This is the case in Chicago with Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, or C4 and its staff.
Based on the investigative reporting of Lauren Victory, the still murky story begins just barely to surface . The three “red flags” already noted—sudden changes in salaries, sudden change in how pay is processed (no longer electronic), and sudden loss of health insurance and immediate switch to COBRA—triggered a whistleblower to reach out to CBS to investigate.
When Victory approached the CEO of C4 for an interview, Chris Carroll was unavailable and no one else could provide information. Later, via email, Carroll indicated that the state and managed care organizations (among them County Care) owed C4 more than $1,000,000. But when Victory checked, Countycare said that C4 was not owed anything, and the Illinois State Comptroller even provided invoices to confirm that there was no money owed.
Now, it’s worth remembering that Illinois has not always paid its nonprofit vendors on time. But an explanation about why the paychecks were suddenly different follows a similar pattern to the late reimbursements. CEO Carroll wrote that ADP Payroll Services abruptly canceled its contract “without warning” even though “premiums were fully paid.” Whereas ADP said they had spent several months trying to get C4 to make good on meeting funding deadlines.
Clearly, there is a problem, and the people caught in the middle are the staff and those they serve. As one C4 therapist said, “If you don’t care about those people’s lives, then I would imagine you would at least care about the taxpayer dollars that are being saved by keeping people out of institutions and, um, from being incarcerated.”
The good news for C4 staff is that as of this writing, new medical insurance has kicked in. The bad news is that no clear explanations for why these actions took place have been offered, to our knowledge, to staff or to the public and that is destabilizing. Both deserve explanations that reassure and inspire renewed confidence.
Is there a clear path for nonprofit staff that find themselves in similar situations? Perhaps. If things seem out of the norm, ask questions of those in charge and those you trust. If the answers don’t align with what seems to be going on, ask if staff can discuss things with senior management and members of the board. If it involves cash flow, ask for regular status updates from those who manage the organization’s funds. Work with others on the staff so that you show your loyalty to the organization, the clients, and each other. Support confidentiality when and if someone takes information public. And, if all else fails, it’s always a good idea to keep your résumé up to date!—Carole Levine