Inhumane treatment of sick, older employees inside county HR

No life appears to be more disposable to the county’s HR than an older Black woman who worked 25 years for the transit system, been hospitalized twice because of COVID, and now needs an oxygen tank to breathe.

Escambia County has received millions of federal dollars to cope with the pandemic and to help citizens, businesses and its employees impacted by the deadly virus. Yet, the county HR sent Gwen McCormick a termination letter in mid-March and letting her know that her health insurance would be cancelled.

During commission’s public forum on June 3, Ms. McCormick walked slowly, gingerly to the podium with her oxygen tank in tow, seeking compassion.

Out of breathe and wearing her mask, she pleaded her case.

“I was told that I would have COBRA insurance, so I could continue trying to get better so I can get back to work,” Ms. McCormick said. “I went to the pharmacy yesterday to get my prescription. They said my insurance was canceled, so I need to know what’s going on with that.”

She added,”I need to find out what you guys can help me with and do something. Cause I still got a little road to go. But I’m getting there, I’m getting there.”

Commissioner Lumon May was furious that HR director Jana Still let this happen. He asked ECAT director Tonya Ellis, “Has staff not been meeting with Ms. McCormick? I thought that that was the direction to meet with her, to find some type of resolution.”

Ms. McCormick said, “I haven’t heard from her in a while.”

Assistant Administrator Debbie Bowers, who was filling in for Administrator Janice Gilley, said, “Yes, I think Jana is in the back, and I’d like for her to come forward because she says she knows what happened with the insurance.”

Still told the commission that she had met with Ms. McCormick and Union president Mike Lowery twice.

“We did do an informal settlement, it was a recorded meeting as well, so they have the record of what was discussed in that meeting,” said Still.

The HR director blamed a system error at Blue Cross Blue Shield for Ms. McCormick’s insurance being cancelled.

“As soon as we were made aware of it, the provider was contacted. Ms. McCormick does have full insurance, will remain fully insured,” said Still. “And Robert will be following up with you again tomorrow to make sure that, to check on you and let you know there’s no action you need to take at this point.”

Still turned to Ms. McCormick who was struggling to breathe, and flippantly said, “Okay. So, I do apologize for that.”

Ms. McCormick humbly added, “Because I had to cancel an appointment today, ’cause I didn’t have any insurance.”

Her sister, Diane Harrison, addressed the commissioners and disputed Still’s claim that a settlement had been reached.

“I’m here speaking on behalf of my sister that I’m very concerned about,” she said. “Her health, nothing has been done. There hasn’t been a settlement regarding her situation.”

Harrison continued, “She was trying to get some medication, which she truly needs for her breathing and was told that her insurance had been canceled, you just heard that. She had an appointment today. She had to cancel that appointment. I am deeply concerned. What is going on here? Something needs to be done.”

Inweekly yesterday asked Mike Lowery, president of ATU Local 1395,  about Still’s version of Ms. McCormick’s grievance. He asserted the Still misrepresented the status to board. There was no informal settlement agreed upon and a settlement offer wasn’t made until Monday, June 7, four days after the meeting.

In other words, Still lied to board. Inweekly has requested all audio of the informal meetings with Ms. McCormick and any transcripts. We will publish them upon review.

Inweekly reporter Jeremy Morrison has tried to talk with Still, but she hasn’t returned his calls.

Lowery also doubts the cancellation of Gwen McCormick’s health insurance was due to an error at Blue Cross. He said, “HR didn’t do what they should have to keep Gwen’s insurance active. The department has very few processes in place.”

He shared that after June 3 debacle, Assistant County Administrator Wesley Hall scheduled the first official settlement meeting with an actual written settlement at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 7.

“Representing the meeting was me in person for the Union and Gwen McCormick and Maureen Gibson the two employees being represented,” he said. “ATU International VP Curtis Howard joined the meeting by Microsoft Teams. Representing Management in person was Tonya Ellis, Rodriques Kimbrough and Wesley Hall. Jana Still also participated by Microsoft Teams. Gerri Bell and Forest English participated as concerned citizens.”

The meeting almost “blew up” during the negotiations because “Jana Still would not actually move off the County’s first offer settlement”

Lowery said, “Ms. Still was nasty and spent most of her time defending herself and Ms. Gilley. Wesley Hall and Tonya Ellis cut Ms. Still off and finally worked with the Union to reach agreements on both situations.”

I doubt few taxpayers would be proud of how Ms. McCormick has been treated, forced to beg–while still suffering the effects of COVID– before the commissioners and county staff for her health care that can be paid for with federal dollars.

And it’s odd that Still felt compelled to defend Gilley during the June 7 meeting – which tells me that Gilley has an hand in Still’s decisions.

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2 thoughts on “Inhumane treatment of sick, older employees inside county HR

  1. This is totally and completely unacceptable!! It doesn’t matter what the reason was, this is just wrong!! The fact that we received funds for situations like this makes this doubly wrong!! It takes a lot to put me in a position of “I have no words” this situation has done exactly that! There are no words to describe the anger that this situation (and others like them) brings to me!!

    This county seems to be taking pleasure in ruining the lives of the very people that work hard to make this county the success that it has been. We have GOT to do better!!

  2. Well, the HR Director reports to and acts on behalf of the County Administrator who serves at the pleasure of the BOCC. Ultimately, the “buck” does stop with the BOCC and, in particular, with Chairman Robert Bender. Is there a normal process either dictated by state law or county ordinance or policy when a county employee is ill and cannot return to their job? It is hard to believe this is the first time this has ever happened. Yet, above we read about Ms. McCormick being sent a termination letter. How does that work? What action or lack of action on the part of McCormick would trigger her termination? What is the county alleging, that she abandoned her job or something like that? What is the rest of the story?

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