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Detroit health workers suffer payless payday

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Some 85 public health workers in Detroit are expected to be paid in the coming days after a contract issue between the city and the state’s health department delayed it this week, officials said Friday.

The employees at the Institute for Population Health — a private nonprofit that former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing launched to administer tens of millions of state and federal health dollars the city receives each year— were set to be paid Friday, but the more than $97,000 needed to make payroll was not available, said Loretta Davis, president and CEO.

Health services such as immunizations, HIV/AIDS testing and tuberculosis treatment were turned over to IPH in 2012 amid red tape and high employee costs that kept Detroit’s Department of Health & Wellness Promotion from operating efficiently.

On Oct. 1, control of most city health care services returned to the Detroit health department, which said the city would contract nearly all of those to vendors.

Vernice Anthony, director of the Department of Health & Wellness Promotion, said with the switchover to the recently modified IPH contract, “it has taken a little bit longer for the city and the state to review the first IPH invoices of the new fiscal year to make sure the charges are in compliance with the terms of the new contract.”

An agreement let IPH continue to provide the Women-Infants-Children program and dental service for three more months until a vendor was able to, Davis said. The workers affected by the pay delay handled those as well as lead poisoning prevention/intervention — all funded through grants from the city, which receives funding from the state, she said.

“Before we release funds to DHWP, the annual comprehensive contract has to be signed,” said Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. “We cannot release the monthly payment until we know who will be providing the services and that the public will have necessary health resources.”

Smith said the state learned of the pay issue on Tuesday and worked with the city to finalize the contract. “DHWP just signed the contract today before 1 p.m.,” she said in an email Friday. “As soon as it was signed, we released the funds.”

Anthony said Friday the state approved the invoices and IPH employees were expected to receive their full checks on Monday.

Davis said the institute had tapped its unrestricted funds to pay the affected workers since Oct. 1 but “we don’t have enough to continue to pay for staff that’s supposed to be paid for through grant funds.”

Workers were distraught about the payless payday on Friday but committed to work then and on Monday, she said. “They do this because this is a job that they love.”