Former Deaconess employees rally, file wage complaints

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Dozens of former Deaconess Home Health employees rallied Tuesday, May 7th in downtown Milwaukee. This, after the state suspended Medicaid payments to Deaconess due to a pending fraud investigation -- and Deaconess was shut down. Now, former employees say they have filed official wage complaints with the state -- and Deaconess clients are scrambling to find alternative care.

The group rallying on Tuesday wasn't as big as some had hoped, but it was loud.

"Deaconess stole our wages. We coming to get a paycheck and all of a sudden, poof. Like David Copperfield, it was gone," former employee Douglas Johnson said.

Johnson is among those trying to get back pay from Deaconess. Wisconsin Jobs Now organized Tuesday's rally, where workers were able to file wage complaints with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

"I hope that accomplishes us getting some answers and getting paid, you know," former employee Marier Mustafa said.

A spokesman with the DWD says it received about 50 complaints on Tuesday. The DWD is preparing to take in many more in the coming days.

"I feel a lot better. Even if it takes time to get this money, I feel a lot better that we got this support," former employee Gerald Dennis said.

Workforce Development officials say the state will investigate the wage complaints and could end up filing a lien against Deaconess to get the workers their money. However, a DWD spokesman says there is no timeline for how long this investigation could last.

Meanwhile, former Deaconess employees wait. Johnson says he is trying to be patient -- and added Tuesday's rally was about more than those connected to Deaconess.

"We're here to fight. We're here to fight -- but not only for us, but for the next people to come behind us as home healthcare workers, that this doesn't happen to them," Johnson said.

Wisconsin Jobs Now has organized a second protest, which is planned for Saturday, May 11th near Ogden and Prospect.

Meanwhile, the DWD says it is working with regional offices to set up a "Rapid Response" program for Deaconess workers -- similar to what was done for workers in Waukesha after Golden Guernsey abruptly shut down.

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