WEST FRANKFORT — Ashley Crider is a single mother of five. Her kids range in age from toddler to teenager, and her work as a mother got a lot harder this month.
Crider, who until recently worked as a licensed practical nurse for Morthland College Health Services, said her paycheck from Oct. 5 wouldn’t clear. She said MCHS’ bank, People’s National Bank, wouldn’t cash it — she’s tried six times. She said after trying to reach out to Tim Morthland, founder of the Morthland family of businesses, and his right hand Emily Hayes in the time since her employment ended last month, she had no luck in getting the more than $1,000 she was owed by MCHS.
“I sent a message to (Tim) Morthland directly when the check wouldn’t cash and he never responded,” Crider said. She said she was also owed a final check that should have been written Oct. 20.
“They told me that in good faith they couldn’t write me a check that they knew I wouldn’t be able to cash and that they would get back to me when they had it,” she said.
The lack of payment and communication drove her to stand outside the MCHS outpatient clinic Wednesday in West Frankfort with a sign that read, “MCHS Your bad checks don’t feed my 5 children!!!!! Pay me what you owe me.”
The tactic worked. Crider had not been out front more than 30 minutes when a representative came outside telling her that Hayes had asked that Crider meet her at People’s National Bank. They were going to pay her.
When she arrived, Crider waited in the lobby as Hayes met with a bank representative behind a closed glass door — Crider was told it might be a minute.
While she waited in the lobby, Crider said she got a text message from her former supervisor asking her to come to another building to get a check. She was confused.
“Nobody knows what anybody is doing,” she said about the conflicting messages she got from MCHS staff. She decided to stay put.
After being called in, she was told she would be paid in full and was going to be given any missing pay stubs — she spent about 15 minutes waiting for these to print out. She cashed the check the moment she left the office.
Crider told The Southern that she was asked to request that the newspaper drop her story because she had received payment. She said her payment was not hinging on the paper’s agreement with the request.
She said she was happy to be paid, but was still left with a bad taste in her mouth.
“It still makes me angry that they made me wait so long,” Crider said, climbing into her car. “Now I can go pay bills,” she added.
Crider said while she waited with Hayes, she was told that her sign and protest earlier at MCHS was “unnecessary” and that had she just contacted them sooner, they would have helped her out.
When asked for comment on the incident and why Crider’s check had bounced, Hayes replied through media representative Christen Drew by email.
“The signers on the bank account were out of town on college business. The former employee was told she would be paid as of noon on 10/25/17 and she has been paid in full as promised,” the response said.
This was not the first instance of bad checks for Crider though — and she said she knew of other employees who had been in the same situation. She said her first paycheck from last December bounced, as did one from this September. She said there were times, too, when MCHS would tell her up front they didn’t have enough to cover her entire check and would work out a deal to pay part now and part later.
Of the locations listed on its website, MCHS retains only one — its West Frankfort Outpatient Clinic. As of Aug. 31, representatives from both the Harrisburg Medical Center and Marshall Browning Hospital in Du Quoin confirmed they no longer contract with MCHS. The last contractual holdout for MCHS was the Franklin County Jail; however, Sheriff Don Jones said Wednesday their contract with MCHS ended Sept. 26. He said the decision to end the contract was made earlier that month.
Representatives from MCHS failed to comment on whether it had any other contracts.
The Morthland family of business enterprises are structured in a system of “guilds.” According to Morthland College Health Services’ website, the guilds are a network of enterprises “designed to support the mission of Morthland College.” It is unclear the distinction between the Morthland Healthcare Foundation and Morthland College Health Services. Representatives from MCHS failed to comment when asked for clarification. However, according to the Illinois Secretary of State’s corporation database, Morthland Healthcare Foundation, a not-for-profit, as well as Morthland College Specialty Physicians LLC, are listed as “not in good standing,” while Morthland College Health Services LLC is listed as "active."
According to a representative from the Secretary of State's press office, the not in good standing designation can be given if a corporation or not-for-profit does not file an annual report with the secretary of state’s office.
The representative indicated that the foundation’s not-for-profit status will be dissolved in December if its report is not filed. The representative said having an open file with the Secretary of State Department of Business Services may be a requirement for licenses or permits a business may need in order to operate. However, the representative said that on its own, simply having its corporation or nonprofit file dissolved by the SOS does not preclude a business from operating.
According to Judici, the Morthland Healthcare Foundation was recently the defendant in a small claims lawsuit. The court settled against the foundation last Thursday, ordering it to repay $9,327.04 to the plaintiff, who is only identified as JSMA — a Chicago-based medical facility planning and development firm owned by Jeffrey Mark.
Mark said he was doing a planning study for the foundation to develop a new healthcare facility in West Frankfort.
“We explored doing a hospital,” he said, adding that, in the end, it was recommended that, based on state regulations, Tim Morthland pursue a larger outpatient clinic. Mark said he invoiced Morthland twice. The first, he said, was about $15,000 and was paid without incident. The second, which was $9,327.04, went unpaid.
“I tried calling them and emailing them and I never got a response, and that’s what really pissed me off,” Mark said of his three- to four-month stint sending emails, leaving voicemails and sending certified letters to the foundation.
He said during the course of doing business, Morthland and Hayes were his main points of contact. He said both were fairly responsive. However, he said he found it odd that neither had direct lines he could call.
After months of trying to seek payment, he was advised to find a local attorney and take the foundation to court.
“I’ve been a practicing consultant/architect for 40 years and this is the first time I’ve ever sued,” Mark said.
He said no one from the Morthland Healthcare Foundation showed up for court, and the judge ruled in his favor. He said he is still in the process of figuring out what’s next, though he has his doubts about ever seeing his money.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get paid,” Mark said. However, he said money is only part of the equation to him — he said it’s also “the principle of the thing.”
“You at least expect the courtesy of a response as to what’s going on,” he said, adding that he has worked out payment plans and even renegotiated fees and costs with clients who found themselves short of cash.
Representatives from the guilds did not answer questions regarding why Mark had not been paid for work.
This story has been modified to reflect that Ashley Crider is an licensed practical nurse.