Nurses show family true compassion
Susanne Jamason isn’t really sure how she’s going to get through Christmas this year, but she has faith that things will work out.
Jamason is a pediatric nurse who commutes 100 miles each way from Grand Junction to Carbondale to care for an infant struggling to overcome a serious genetic condition. She hasn’t been paid since late October, yet she continues to make the drive three times a week even though she isn’t sure if she’s ever going to get paid for hundreds of hours of unpaid work since late July.
“I literally don’t know where my rent is coming from for next month,” said Jamason, who shares an apartment in Grand Junction with her college-age nephew. In fact, these days she doesn’t even know where her next tank of gas is coming from. Earlier this month, she had to borrow $10 from another nurse to buy gas for her car.
Jamason is one of four nurses who continues without pay to help Trevor and April Blotske care for their 13-month-old daughter, Saige. Four others, who as of Nov. 1 were on the payroll of the Blotske’s home care provider, Home Health of the Rockies, fill in when they can afford to work an unpaid 12-hour shift.
Saige was born with Apert syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that has profound effects on skull and respiratory development. It can be fatal, and those who survive must undergo years of surgery early in life. Surgeons at three hospitals have performed surgery on Saige 12 times in the first 13 months of her life, and she is scheduled for a second round of cranial surgery in February.
At home, Saige requires attention and care all day long, particularly with the tracheal tube that allows her to breath, so her doctors have said that without 24-hour-a-day care, she will need to be hospitalized.
“We have the best team, we all care for that whole family so much, and we want to do the right thing. That’s why we keep working,” says Mary Hoza, a 71-year-old nurse from Avon.
Five of the nurses are owed at least $1,000. Jamason and Hoza are owed more than $5,000 apiece, and head nurse Hellen Doane has kept working even though Home Health of the Rockies is more than $25,000 in arrears on her pay. The nurses are not employees of Home Health, but work as independent contractors with the firm, which is responsible for billing the family’s two insurers – American Family and Aetna – and Medicaid for the nursing services.
Doane said she’s owed so much because every time the company has sent money, she’s passed all of it on to the other nurses, especially those who don’t have the benefit of a working spouse to help with the bills. “I’m one of the lucky ones, because my husband is able to support the family,” Doane said.
Even so, the lack of pay has taken its toll on the Doanes. “Rebecca, my daughter, just turned 13. She’s a teenager – that’s a big deal – and she wanted to have a party and do all these things, but we just couldn’t do it for her. We couldn’t afford it,” she said.
Home Health owner Ted McWhorter said yesterday that he was negotiating with Medicaid for an emergency appropriation to pay the nurses some of what they are owed. The fact that McWhorter admits he owes the nurses money is an about-face from his Dec. 12 assertion that “most of those nurses have been paid most of what’s coming to them.”
McWhorter decided earlier this month to drop the Blotskes from his caseload, claiming that his firm had only been paid $2,835 by Medicaid and nothing by the insurance companies since Sept. 24. The family has been scrambling to find another home care provider to pay the nurses, all of whom want to continue working with Saige.
Jamason, meanwhile, is just trying to figure out how to put on a family Christmas for her four sisters, some of whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years, who are on their way to Grand Junction for the holidays. “My family knows what I like to do. I’ve always been Santa for the family – this is hard for me,” she said.
When Jamason called Home Health and left a message asking for just some of her pay, the call went unanswered. “I just said that if I could get a little of the money they owe me, it would be a big help,” she said. “I haven’t heard back.”
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