Employees sue troubled Idaho mental-health center

Earlier, a judge dismissed Health and Welfare's allegations of fraud.


Seasons of Hope is facing yet another challenge after 19 former employees sued in Bannock County in August, seeking owed wages and benefits.

Although it pales in comparison to the money Seasons of Hope owes the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for improperly paid-out Medicaid claims, the 19 former employees are seeking nearly $33,000 in allegedly owed wages, roughly $2,400 in unused vacation pay, attorney fees and court costs.

Health and Welfare began investigating Seasons of Hope in early 2012, doing a partial check of the operation's Medicaid billing from June 1, 2010 through January 2013. Heath Sommer, owner and operator of Seasons of Hope, told the Idaho State Journal in April that Health and Welfare officials assured him he would be able to respond to their concerns before action being taken.

At the end of March, however, Seasons of Hope received a 14-page letter stating that the operation's Medicaid provider status had been suspended pending further investigation and that suspension could remain in place for five years.

Seasons of Hope appealed Health and Welfare's decision, and a nine-day hearing was held in June. Senior District Judge Peter McDermott returned his decision on June 18, determining that Seasons of Hope had not committed any fraud.

McDermott ended Seasons of Hope's suspended Medicaid provider status. He also dismissed each party's allegations of fraud against the other.

"Making errors is not fraud," he wrote in his decision. "Fraud requires an intentional act."

McDermott did find, however, that Health and Welfare was entitled to a judgment of about $94,000. Seasons is also ordered to pay nearly $10,000 in civil penalties and a little more than $8,000 in fines.

In response to the decision, Sommer released a written statement calling the decision a "blessing of great magnitude" and saying he intended to open his doors again for business.

The blessing was short-lived, as Health and Welfare appealed the decision. That appeal is currently in process, and the final brief from Health and Welfare must be submitted by Sept. 16. Armstrong will then have 56 days to make a ruling.

The process won't necessarily end with Armstrong's decision. If Seasons of Hope disagrees with the ruling, they can request a judicial review by a district court.

The employee lawsuit alleges Seasons of Hope committed breach of employment contract, unjust enrichment and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.

"Defendant(s) breached the contractual obligation to each plaintiff by failing to timely pay wages and/or salary and timely provide promised and earned other compensation and benefits of employment," the lawsuit states.

In April, Sommer said Medicaid reimbursements were a substantial portion of Seasons' income and that the suspension affected his ability to serve as a Medicaid provider and had effectively shut down his business. He said he was trying to figure out how to pay the workers, but not receiving those funds from Medicaid would make it difficult to compensate those employees for the work they had done.

The claims of wages and unused vacation time range from $180 in back pay for one person to nearly $6,500 in salary and unused vacation time to another.

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