AUGUSTA — An Augusta-based agency providing daily living support services and case management for about 300 people with mental illness in central Maine abruptly closed its doors earlier this week, the same day the state terminated its contract over allegations of fraud.

About 100 employees of Fullcircle Supports Inc. were told about the closing Tuesday morning, and several said that they had not received their weekly paychecks this week that come on Fridays.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email Friday that the state agency acted on “credible allegations of fraud” and “was federally required to suspend payment and did so on April 28, 2017.”

Meanwhile, the clients of the agency, which provided assistance to those with mental disabilities and mental illness, are seeking new providers and the former employees are looking for new jobs. Direct service workers do a variety of jobs for clients, taking them to doctors’ and dialysis appointments, to stores, helping them with chores, and helping them budget money.

“I’m more concerned about our clients and the safety of the community,” said Cassandra Goodridge, 42, of Madison, who had worked for Fullcircle for more than three years. “I had to go to a client on my own time Wednesday morning because she’s teetering on crisis,” Goodridge said. “I just couldn’t tell her over the phone.”

Goodridge said she had provided daily living services to the woman for two and a half years. “We contacted her case manager and called another agency to try to get her services as quickly as possibly, but it will be about two weeks,” she said.

DHHS sent Fullcircle Supports a violation notice “for noncompliance with the MaineCare Benefits Manual” on May 5, according to Edwards, who would not elaborate on details of the violations or fraud allegations.

“Upon further review, MaineCare terminated the provider agreement with Fullcircle Supports on May 9,” she wrote. “The department was officially notified on the same day that the provider ceased operations. The department is working to identify and contact clients to smoothly transition them to other area providers.”

Edwards said via email that the department could give no more details about the ongoing investigation. Once a fraud allegation is deemed credible, an investigation is conducted by a state or federal law enforcement agency.

Fullcircle Supports, which began operating in 2011 in Hallowell, was owned by Toni Richards of Temple. Richards, who was contacted by phone and email Friday morning, said she would issue a statement later.

The main phone number for the agency was not taking any more messages on Friday afternoon.

Goodridge said she has talked to a number of others who used to work at Fullcircle about the abrupt closing, and said one person saw a client at the soup kitchen who was crying because the individual did not know the agency had folded.

“One client thought his worker had gotten into an accident on the way to work because she didn’t come,” Goodridge said.

Goodridge said she filed for unemployment, and was told the Department of Labor had gotten about 85 calls from former Fullcircle workers reporting they had not gotten paid Friday.

“There are people that are worried they’re going to get evicted ’cause they didn’t get paid,” she said. “There are a lot of single mothers.”

And she might move to a different type of work. “This really soured me,” she said. “It’s a hard field to work in.”

Morla “Mo” Connor, 38, of Augusta, said Friday she worked for Fullcircle Supports for five years. She started as a daily living support worker and then moved to case management just over a year ago.

A single mother of two, Connor has fewer economic concerns than some of her co-workers.

“Thank god I’ve had two jobs for past six years,” Connor said. She had worked part-time at Maine Vocational Rehabilitation Associates and now will be full-time there as a case manager.

“I got let go on Tuesday, and I’m ready for business on Friday,” she said. “That’s pretty quick to get re-established. I’m willing to work all weekend to get client in-takes completed.”

But she remains upset about the abrupt closing. “I feel like I just broke up with an abusive boyfriend,” she said.

And she worries that those who need services are feeling abandoned, saying clients “are right in the middle not knowing what’s going on.”

Angel Bernardo, 47, of Winthrop, said she had worked for Fullcircle Supports for a year and a half in the quality assurance office. She is also one of the individuals covered under the provisions of the Augusta Mental Health Institute Consent Decree, which governs how the state must treat individuals who have been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness who received services at Riverview Psychiatric Center and its predecessor, AMHI.

She said she intended to call the consent decree coordinator to tell her about her experience at Fullcircle in licensing and regulation and her concerns.

Bernardo said she plans to tell her that “in retrospect, as a class member, how I’ve come to see how human beings with mental illness can sometimes be thought as revenue or property, and it’s not right.”

She said she has been supporting herself without public assistance because she keeps herself healthy and that previously she received Social Security disability payments.

Michael Wasserboehr, 33, of Augusta, worked for Fullcircle for three years as a direct or daily living skills worker. He worked Saturdays so he could be home with his children during the week.

He too worries about the clients he worked with.

“These are people who rely on us to do things for them, like find a new agency,” Wasserboehr said. “One guy that I worked with received services six days a week. What is he doing? Those are the things that I’m worried about. They screwed the entire clients over.”

Wasserboehr said he learned about it later Tuesday as he was trying to submit his paperwork for the previous Saturday.

He said he saw the text message that went out, telling employees, “We need everybody to be at this meeting for ‘positive changes’ coming. I’m still heated about it.”

Jen Gagne, 35, in Gardiner, worked in quality assurance for Fullcircle Supports for four years, and in the mental health support service field for 15 years.

By Friday, she had applied for unemployment.

“Luckily I did qualify,” she said, adding that she had heard others had not.

She too did not get paid Friday.

“All we can do is try to fight through it,” she said. “I want some answers, instead of being lied to about saying we’re going to get our paychecks and there’s no problem.”

Gagne said she’s hoping to get some answers from the state.

“Part of my responsibility was to take in all of the (daily living support) paperwork and hand that off to payroll,” she said. “What about the people who haven’t turned in their stuff yet?”

Jodi Carey, 37, of Manchester, worked as receptionist at Fullcircle Supports for a year and a half. She said she learned of the closing at the 8 a.m. meeting Tuesday where she said workers were told that Fullcircle was merging with a Waterville-based agency that provided similar services and that there would be jobs for them there.

However, she said that turned out not to be the case.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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