Lovell FHCC employees working on ‘promise to pay’ status
By Frank Abderholden email@example.com | @abderholden October 9, 2013 6:06PM
The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:12PM
The government funding shutdown is causing a bit of a push-me-pull-me situation as civilian employees of Naval Station Great Lakes were called back from furlough this week, but civilians at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC) are now working without pay.
“Ninety percent of those furloughed came back to work,” said John Sheppard, a spokesman for the North Chicago base who was also furloughed along with 2,400 civilians last week.
“Not everyone is back, but it seems like a majority are,” he said, also noting that the base’s Commissary, where military personnel can buy groceries and other merchandise at a discount, has opened its doors again this week.
Over at Lovell FHCC, also in North Chicago, people are working knowing that they are not going to get paid until an appropriations bill is signed. Stephanie McCrobie, a spokesman for the hospital, said there should be minimal impact on patient care.
“We are making sure that there is a minimum impact to the continuation of services to veteran patients, active-duty patients and military families or dependents,” she said.
There are 2,000 civilian employees at the hospital that provide care to patients, maintenance staff and administrators who received their last paycheck last Friday, Oct. 4. There are another 800 active-duty staff members that are unaffected by the pay issue.
McCrobie explained that the civilian employee paychecks come through a special treasury funding program because they are a demonstration project, the first hospital in the nation to merge services for both veterans and active-duty personnel and their families. “It’s a great model to serve veterans throughout their career,” she said.
But then an appropriations bill was not passed.
“On Sunday (Oct. 6) at 12:01 a.m., that fund no longer had money,” she said, “We communicated with the staff that they are essential,” she said.
“Since (Sunday) employees are working on a ‘promise to pay’ status,” she said. The administration held town hall type meetings with civilian employees last week in anticipation of the fund running dry.
“We want patients to understand that employees are here for them,” she said, “We are also communicating with the employees as to what is going on and the resources available to them.”
One of those resources, the Veterans Canteen Service, which runs the retail stores and cafeterias in the hospital, is offering staff essential food items and personal hygiene products to civilian employees. “We are going to continue to address staff concerns,” said McCrobie.
The St. Louis-based Veterans Canteen Service is a separate entity and has activated “Operation Pantry” to assist employees. “Patriot Cafés and Retail Stores are adjusting their stock assortments inserting groceries and other essential items to assist you during this difficult period,” they wrote to the hospital administration.
They will continue to accept e-PD card transactions as well as post-dated checks, holding them until pay is resumed. The e-PD cards are employee payroll deduction cards used as no-interest credit cards. Cards can be applied for in their local VCS office. The application process is currently being expedited to help applicants get their life-essential items faster.
They said their in-hospital retail stores will begin stocking essential products such as shampoo, razors, soap, deodorant, toilet paper, laundry detergent and trash bags. Canned food items like soup, chili, tuna, ravioli and peanut butter are being stocked, and there will be bulk items in the Patriot Cafés such as milk, bread, eggs, and, by request, sugar, meat, fruit and vegetables.
The local canteen staff will also respond to specific requests for essential items such as baby formula, diapers, pet food, etc. Staff will secure these items locally once a request has been placed with them.
As to whether there is any help for someone who lives paycheck to paycheck and needs to make a mortgage payment, she said she was not aware of any particular program that could help them, but she urged employees to talk to their supervisors and they have also made counseling available for employees who need to talk about their stress or other problems.
“We told them we need all staff to keep the hospital running smoothly and we are going to continue to address staff concerns,” she said.
McCrobie also said that they were not allowing reporters on the grounds to interview employees at this time.
“We hope the issues in Washington are settled quickly,” she said