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Late Paychecks, Problems With Benefits Leave Employees At Chicago Nonprofit C4 On Edge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Skipping medications and stressing about paying rent – money troubles at a Chicago nonprofit led whistleblowers to contact the Morning Insiders for help.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory dug into a twisted tale of finger-pointing with social workers caught in the middle.

The joy of giving back does not stop after the holiday season – at least not in the case of one anonymous social worker who proudly says she loves her job.

Every day, she treats some of the city's most severe mental health challenges. So does a therapist who also asked to remain anonymous.

"The people that we are serving – many of them would end up homeless, incarcerated, institutionalized, or worse," the therapist said.

Their nonprofit is called Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, or C4. Despite decades in operation along with 7,000 clients and counting, confidence in leadership is dropping.

"I'm trying to remember which came first," the therapist said. "It was the late paycheck."

Recent emails about delayed payroll were followed by an announcement about upgrading to better benefits in 2020. But there is just one minor detail.

"By the way, until then you'll have to pay for COBRA," the therapist said.

COBRA – short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – is a government health insurance program that is notoriously pricey. C4 clinicians said they had 12 hours' notice of the change, but it took a month to materialize.

"When I have tried to fill prescriptions, I've been told by the pharmacist that I do not have health insurance," the therapist said.

"There were employees who were, like, rationing their medications to make it last longer," the social worker said.

And now there is a third hit – they are getting paper paychecks without a list of deductions to explain why pay is lower than expected.

"I don't know what's going on," the therapist said. "I guess that's the big question."

We tried to track down C4 chief executive officer Chris Carroll to ask about financials.

But even though CBS 2's Victory told Carroll she was coming, an assistant said Carroll was not there and refused to let Victory in. The assistant said there was nobody else Victory could talk to.

Later, Carroll sent us a head-scratching email with several statements directly contradicted by our reporting.

"The state and MCOs (including Countycare) owe C4 more than $1 million in unpaid claims," Carroll wrote. MCO stands for managed care organization.

Countycare told us that C4 is "not owed anything."

The Illinois Comptroller's office confirmed the same, even going so far as to provide us invoices.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services also denied owing C4 any money.

"A department review reflects that no major payments are outstanding to this provider at this point. We encourage all providers to contact us with questions or concerns about payments," IDHFS spokesman John Hoffman said.

We asked Carroll to send us invoices showing missing payment, but he never did.

As for the dropped benefits debacle, ADP Payroll Services abruptly canceled its contract "without warning" even though "premiums were full paid," Carroll wrote.

But ADP told CBS 2 the opposite – that they had communicated for "several months" with C4 about "repeated failure to provide timely funding."

"Is it just gross mismanagement?" the therapist said.

The answer is unclear. Carroll denied our repeated requests for the interview, and in the meantime, employees fear the unknown – for themselves and their clients.

"If you don't care about those people's lives, then I would imagine you would at least care about the taxpayer dollars that are being saved by keeping people out of institutions and um, from being incarcerated," the therapist said.

C4 management warned staff about our story in an email, and once again blamed funding problems on ADP and the state.

The CEO would not respond to our specific questions about the discrepancy between his money explanations and everyone else's.

Social workers told us their medical coverage finally kicked in late last week.

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