TAMPA — It's been nearly a month since health care IT company CareSync shut down unexpectedly. And while the Tampa firm may be closed, for many, the issue isn't over.
Former employees have gone before public officials to demand answers and support over the fallout, which left 292 people out of work. Wauchula officials are trying to bring other employers into the space. And former CareSync officials hinted at possible future litigation.
Interviews with more than a dozen former employees left in the lurch by CareSync's sudden demise said there were warning signs of a financial squeeze with top executives leaving and workers directed to maximize Medicare reimbursements.
Soly Alvarado, who worked in the Tampa office as a licensed professional nurse, said that the first hint the company wasn't on solid footing was when Travis Bond was removed from his CEO position in April and made chief innovation officer. Board member Bob Crutchfield was made interim CEO. He did not respond to requests for comment.
"They said it was just because (Bond) wasn't handling finances well," Alvarado said. "Obviously, everyone was concerned."
In its last few months, five former employees told the Tampa Bay Times, the company made an extra push for Medicare billing.
For CareSync to be able to bill Medicare for a patient, a CareSync employee needed to spend at least 20 minutes on their case each month. Billing Medicare helps the company and the physicians CareSync contracted with get paid.
Former CEO Bond said that was just the business model — CareSync helped health care providers with chronic care management services.
"This allowed them to extend the breadth of care they provide patients, and to submit for reimbursement for doing so," Bond said in an email to the Times. "In order for our clients to do the latter, we had to provide at least 20 minutes of care coordination services on behalf of the provider. Our goal was always to coordinate care for all eligible members."
Getting patients "billable" fell under the job description for CareSync's "Trifecta" team members: health assistants who requested patient records, transcribed them and sent the patients care plans.
Former Trifecta members said they were instructed by CareSync management to try to get every patient to 20 minutes, even if there wasn't enough work to fill that time.
"There were times that we were told to 'sit' on the member until it reached 20 minutes," Margarita Gutierrez, a former Trifecta employee who worked in the Wauchula office, said. She worked for CareSync for about two years.
Employees, she said, would stretch to hit their minimum time by making calls to the patient, reviewing medical records and checking on prescriptions for the patient.
The rule even applied for patients who wanted to cancel their accounts — 20 minutes before they were unenrolled.
Shelly Wright, who worked in the Wauchula office, said she was one of the first employees to be hired on the Trifecta team, in May 2017.
"It was overtime, overtime, overtime, overtime until we could get every member up to 20 minutes to be billable," Wright said.
Denise Tehoke started out as a licensed professional nurse for CareSync in Wauchula and was later trained as a Trifecta member in February 2018 during the company's push for Medicare billing.
"The point was to not waste time on it," Tehoke said. "Do what you got to do, get them billable and move on to the next person."
During this rush, another employee Hyla Earley said that Trifecta team members were offered double-pay with no penalties for working overtime.
"There were people who spent the night there just for a couple of hours because they were trying to help," Earley said.
If the employees didn't reach the 20 minute mark, higher-ups would reprimand them and at least once threatened an employee's job security.
A group of about 20 former CareSync employees filled the back rows of the Board of County Commissioners meeting in Wauchula on July 5 to ask the board for help. About 125 CareSync employees were based in Wauchula.
Most employees were blindsided by news CareSync's financial trouble. A termination letter sent out in mid-June said the company had sought a buyer — Shipt CEO Bill Smith and his family — in the hopes of keeping its doors open. The deal eventually fell through.
Since June, many companies have come in to take over what they can from CareSync. Several medical companies made a point of reaching out to hire former CareSync employees both in Tampa and Wauchula, and Career Source Heartland recently hosted a job fair that included former CareSync employees.
According to Bill Lambert, Hardee County economic development director, "several" companies are also looking to move in to the former CareSync Wauchula office.
And there may be more ahead for CareSync. In an email to the Times, Rep. James "Jamie" Grant, who was CareSync's cofounder and senior solutions architect, said that he hasn't ruled out future lawsuits over the ordeal.
"The only plans I have right now are to continue doing everything in my power to make sure that every one of my former colleagues who wants to get back to work are doing so," he said. "Once that work is done — and as we learn more about how this happened to us and exactly what occurred — nothing is off the table."
Bond said he has no current plans to bring litigation.
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