April 7, 2016
An abrupt end to the company known as Merrymeeting Behavioral Health in Maine happened on April 1, 2016. That’s when the company, which offered in-home services by case managers and daily living support (DLS) workers, closed its doors. It was originally scheduled to close on April 8, 2016 but it abruptly closed after the owner, Jim Talbott, said that DHHS’s health care cuts and a media frenzy were responsible for the early closing.
Not so fast, Mr. Talbott. Questions are being raised by DHHS and Merrymeeting employees about the true reason for the closing. Closing such an agency had to be done with at least 30 days’ written notice but it was closed with little notice to its employees and almost no notice to the people they serve. DLS workers had to either tell their clients, lie to their clients, or were told to avoid the subject entirely.
Clients Still Unaware of Merrymeeting’s Closing
As of April 6, 2016, some of the clients were still unaware that Merrymeeting had closed. Closing the agency in this manner was a breach of contract with DHHS. The more troublesome issues are:
- How the clients will deal with the closing
- How some clients will be able to transition to new providers
- How some clients will be able to cope
- If the employees will ever be paid for their last few weeks plus unused vacation time.
Former Employees Concerned About Their Clients and About Getting Paid
Former employees are of course concerned about their clients. The employees are also concerned they will never be paid. Some of them are owed several weeks’ pay. Jim Talbott, the owner, in a letter to team leaders, also cited the following reason for closing:
This extraordinary media coverage caused the bank with which we do business to become alarmed. By this time I had secured the services of an attorney…but even his interventions were not sufficient to keep the bank from freezing all our assets and essentially draining all monies from the corporate bank account which we used to fund payroll.
The letter goes on to say things such as, “(H)ad the bank not seized our money” we would have made next weeks’ payroll. It also states that he has no idea if the employees would be paid because the people who do billing are no longer employed and, as Mr. Talbott said, “I am not able to do it myself.” The letter is not dated.
Talbott Able to Afford Recent Trip to Greece
A Merrymeeting employee indicated that Mr. Talbott had recently taken trips to Greece and to Spain. Other employees concurred that they were aware of his recent trips.
DHHS also stated that Mr. Talbott had never reached out to them for assistance. DHHS and Merrymeeting employees are doubting that Section 17 had anything to do with the loss of their jobs. In fact, on Friday, April 8, the date the company was supposed to close, there were meetings in Augusta to protest the changes to Section 17. This resulted in extensions of 120 days, with the possibility of further extensions to June 30, 2017.
Talbott said that this will not affect Merrymeeting and that Merrymeeting is closed. If Section 17 was truly the reason for the closing, the extension should have caused Talbott to do an about-face.
Court Order Required for Bank to Freeze Assets
When assets are frozen, a court order is usually required. That means Mr. Talbott knew that one or more creditors were going after him for money. This author is a licensed attorney in another state and is aware of court procedure.
When a bank freezes assets, it’s often because a creditor–which could be the bank itself–has brought an action in court to have the assets frozen. Perhaps the speculation that the company was already in financial trouble or was considering bankruptcy has merit.
That would mean that Section 17 may not have had anything to do with Merrymeeting’s closing its doors. If that’s the case, it would also mean that much of Talbott’s letter may not be true.
Former Employees Invited to Job Fair
Former employees were invited to a job fair in Brunswick on April 11, 2016. Many have filed for unemployment, wondering how they’re going to pay their bills. Without advance warning of losing their job, employees didn’t have time to prepare for it.
Some employees have contacted the Department of Labor and the Maine Attorney General’s office to investigate the closing.
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If you were a Merrymeeting employee, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story that should be told. Anyone who is interested in further updates, please click “follow” in the left margin of this column.
Have you been a victim of Merrymeeting as a client or as an employee? You can tell your story in the comments below or contact me at email@example.com.
Ronna Lambiasi DeLoe