UPDATED: Nurses association says Missoula’s Community Medical Center is failing to pay its nurses

Letter demands answers to payroll system by Friday; CMC issues statement

By: - January 5, 2022 6:31 am

Community Medical Center pictured on January 17, 2021.

The Montana Nurses Association is giving one of the largest health care centers in the state until noon on Friday to pay more than 250 nurses and likely other staff for nearly a month of partial wages or face legal action to get employees past-due checks.

A letter sent to Community Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Bob Gomes by lawyers representing the nurses said that a payroll software problem has led to 257 nurses not being paid the correct amount, even as they’ve worked overtime during the holidays during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Gomes, pointed out that unsuccessful meetings with CMC staff who described the situation as “a dumpster fire” led to the decision to put the organization on a deadline because the nurses association estimates that the average nurse has likely been shorted $1,000 and some may have been undercompensated by as much as $4,500. The association is also concerned because the for-profit medical organization said that it estimated the glitch would not be corrected until the end of this month at the soonest.

Community Medical Center statement

On Wednesday morning, Community Medical Center in Missoula issued a statement to the Daily Montanan, which was not available when the organization was first contacted by the Daily Montanan Tuesday night. This is the full statement:

“Several weeks ago, we learned that the Kronos Enterprise System, our Cloud-based timekeeping platform, went down nationwide due to a ransomware issue on the national Kronos system. This situation is impacting all companies and employees worldwide that utilize the Cloud-based version of this payroll system. We have been in constant contact with the Kronos team to better understand the situation and when the program may be restored.

“Meantime, we’re working as diligently as possible to address the challenges we’re experiencing because of this situation. We have implemented downtime procedures – meaning manual data entry – to ensure all Community Medical Center employees are paid for their regular hours worked as they serve our patients and community. It is important to know that every employee is being paid every pay cycle as we work through this situation. In some instances, employees are being overpaid and in other instances they’re being underpaid – largely resulting from delayed pay premiums and differentials.  Additionally, we know some employees have worked additional hours beyond their regular schedule, and we’re working with employees individually to manually address all these issues as quickly as possible. Ensuring our employees are paid accurately and timely remains our top priority. To catch employees up in the interim, we have dedicated additional resources internally to address the backlog of issues we’re experiencing because of this nationwide problem.

“Our team is working around the clock to do everything we can to address these unfortunate challenges beyond our control, and we’re committed to continuing our manual data entry and adjustment process until this Kronos ransomware issue has successfully been resolved.”

Vicky Byrd, the chief executive for the nurses association, said that while salaried employees, including administrators at the healthcare center, were still getting paid normally, any employee who works variable hours, overtime, or has differential rates, hazard pay or even vacation is likely not getting full compensation.

The problem stems from a larger issue that reaches far beyond Missoula. Kronos, a large software provider who specializes in healthcare and government payroll systems, has been the target of a ransomware attack. That attack has meant that the payroll data may still be collected by the software and time management systems, but won’t allow access by clients like CMC until the ransom is paid.

Byrd told the Daily Montanan on Tuesday night that other healthcare systems had adjusted, even if that means doing payroll “the old fashioned” way by paper timecards. In fact, she said that nurses from the SCL system, which operates healthcare centers in Butte, Miles City and Billings, had faced the same issue, but apparently switched to a more labor-intensive manual system.

However, in a meeting Tuesday with some healthcare officials, Byrd said only three payroll employees are available for a staff that numbers nearly 1,000. She said officials from CMC refused to commit more staff to help alleviate the problem and was told the problem “would not be solved until at least Jan. 28.”

“Hundreds of nurses’ timecards are available at CMC,” the letter states. “But MNA learned from CMC today that the hospital has no plans to use them to make payroll manually … In the meantime, CMC has assigned just three personnel to address payroll issues for its 257 nurses and instructed these three staff members to work regular business hours only.”

Nurses at CMC said they were last accurately paid on Dec. 3, and three payroll periods have passed. Byrd said that nurses, many of whom are working overtime to care for patients, will not see that overtime pay anytime soon if the situation is changed. Many were expecting the pay to help pay for the holidays. She said one nurse called her crying because she went to payroll at CMC to “beg” so that she could go on vacation.

The MNA is in the process of collecting all the data, but from 40 members who had responded on Tuesday, she said the total of what is owed to just those nurses is more than $40,000. With 257 nurses represented at CMC, Byrd said it’s no stretch to think the amount of pay being held back likely stretches into six figures.

Byrd said the problem isn’t just a matter of being “shorted.” One nurse who hadn’t worked since November received a paycheck in December. That, in turn, will create another set of problems for nurses. Others, who may normally work at just halftime, but have since added more hours because of the demand, are still being paid on a part-time basis, shorting them more significantly.

The MNA has retained the McConnell Law Firm in Missoula and the Graybill Law Firm in Great Falls to represent the nurses, and in addition to nurses not getting paid, in the letter to Gomes, the lawyers point out that the action likely violates Montana law, which says that wages must be paid on time.

“The situation is not only a breach of employee’s trust, it is also illegal,” said the letter signed by Nate McConnell and Raph Graybill. “Failure to pay on time can result in a penalty of up to 110% of the wages due, as well as criminal penalties.”

The letter also asks CMC to offer a concrete plan with dates by the Friday deadline, which includes an increase in staffing in its payroll department to make the nurses whole, and a date that an accurate payroll will happen going forward.

“It is difficult to imagine a more urgent administrative crisis right now than the business’ failure to pay its frontline caregivers,” the letter stated. “CMC must begin to address this situation as the crisis it is.”

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.