At least 45 employees hired through a private firm to work as part of the state’s coronavirus response efforts were let go with less than 48 hours notice after the state determined that the employees’ positions were no longer necessary.
The workers were contracted by the San Diego-based healthcare corporation AMN, which the state paid over $23.7 million to provide Connecticut with a local workforce trained in contract tracing.
Maura Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health, said that 45 individuals were informed yesterday that they would be terminated effective Friday, and that they anticipate additional lay off notices to be issued soon. She said they anticipate the total number of layoffs to be less than 100.
However, several supervisors, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Katherine Wilbon, a manager at AMN Healthcare, informed them in a meeting on Wednesday afternoon that the company would be terminating the jobs of about 100 contact tracers and workers on the state’s vaccine assistance hotline this Friday. Wilbon did not respond to requests for comment.
Fitzgerald said that the department had been in negotiations with AMN for the past few weeks about “right-sizing” the contract. She said that demand for contact tracing and assistance with vaccine procurement had dropped, meaning that the state no longer needed the same number of people.
“We had asked AMN to give as much notice as possible to these contractors,” said Fitzgerald.
A supervisor confirmed that the call volume had been decreasing on the vaccine assistance line since the beginning of May. This supervisor said that they suspected the contract would end soon, but expected to receive two weeks severance pay.
Supervisors said the rapid layoffs were done “callously” over a video call and without an HR person present to answer questions.
One of the supervisors said that the employees should have been given two weeks notice so that they could begin to search for other jobs.
“Some of these people are the sole breadwinners in their home, and you’re telling them that they’re not going to have any work,” the supervisor said.
Fitzgerald said that the state would normally give two weeks notice before letting people go, but she said that there was nothing in the contract stipulating that AMN had to do this.
“We’re not responsible for AMN’s internal HR policies,” she said.
The state’s contract with AMN is set to expire on August 31, although supervisors’ contracts show they were hired originally through September 30. Fitzgerald said that at its peak, 290 Connecticut residents were employed with the department. After these layoffs,140 individuals would be kept on full time under AMN’s existing contract with the state.
Fitzgerald said that the state, through its existing contract with AMN, had decided to keep 15 AMN contractors working on the vaccine assistance line, 35 “vaccine ambassadors” and 23 community outreach workers, 51 contact tracers and 11 supervisors. These individuals do not work directly for the state, Fitzgerald said.
She said that the Department of Public Health would tell AMN how many individuals they wanted to keep, and AMN would then determine how many people they would let go. She said she did not know how many people were currently employed through AMN.
Supervisors made other allegations against AMN, saying that they were not paid overtime despite it being explicitly outlined in their contracts. Instead, they were told to take comp time, but some said they had difficulty getting it approved. They also said they were not permitted to take personal time off or were given a hard time when they asked.
The contract signed between AMN and the Department of Public Health places the rate of a supervisor at $57.50 hourly. However, the supervisor contracts that CT Examiner viewed offered between $35 and $36 hourly for supervisors.
Fitzgerald said that it was standard practice for the contracted rate of pay to be higher than the actual rate of pay. Supervisors also said that AMN told terminated employees could expect to wait up to 45 days to receive paid compensation for unused personal time off.
AMN did not respond to requests for comment.
Fitzgerald said that the state had “granted permission” to AMN to give the workers one weeks’ severance pay, and that the state was actively helping them find work. She said they would give the names of the laid off workers to the local health departments — she said these employees would be a good fit for the local health agencies since they were already trained.
She said they were also connecting some of the employees with other state call centers, such as AccessHealthCT.
A supervisor said they believed the treatment was “a slap in the face” to people who spent a lot of time helping the state in its effort to control the spread of the virus and get people vaccinated.
“These people worked their butts off for the State of Connecticut,” one supervisor said.
“Connecticut did very well,” said another. “They did very well because of these people.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to clarify the employment status of workers with the State of Connecticut.