POCATELLO — Seasons of Hope is facing yet another challenge after 19 former employees collectively filed suit in Bannock County on Tuesday, seeking owed wages and benefits.

    Although it pales in comparison to the money Seasons of Hope owes the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in 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 and 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 of this year. Heath Sommer, owner and operator of Seasons of

Hope, told the Journal in April that throughout the process, Health and Welfare officials assured him he would be able to respond to their concerns prior to action being taken.

    At the end of March, however, Seasons of Hope was sent a 14-page letter stating that the operation’s Medicaid provider status had been suspended pending further investigation and that suspension would remain in place for five years if nothing happened to change that.

    They appealed Health and Welfare’s decision and a nine-day hearing was held in June. That hearing was presided over by Senior District Judge Peter McDermott, who served as the hearing officer. McDermott returned his decision on June 18, determining that Seasons of Hope had not committed any fraud.

    In his judgment, McDermott ended Seasons of Hope’s suspended Medicaid provider status. He also dismissed allegations of fraud against Seasons of Hope by Health and Welfare, as well as allegations of fraud against Health and Welfare leveled by Seasons of Hope.

    “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. That judgment was for a little more than $94,000. Seasons is also ordered to pay nearly $10,000 in civil penalties and a little more than $8,000 in fines.

    Both parties were given 14 days to appeal the decision.

    In response to the decision, Sommer released a written statement in which he called the decision a “blessing of great magnitude,” adding that he intended to open his doors again for business.

    But the blessing was short-lived, as Health and Welfare opted to appeal the decision. That appeal lies in the hands of Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and is currently in process.

    It could take a little more than four months from the date of Health and Welfare’s appeal. Health and Welfare’s attorney, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, will first have to file its briefs stating why it believes McDermott erred in his decision. That must be submitted by Aug. 19. Seasons of Hope then has until Aug. 30 to submit their briefs in response to Health and Welfare, which then gets a final submission to respond to what Seasons of Hope submitted. That final brief from Health and Welfare must be submitted by Sept. 16.

    Armstrong will then have 56 days to make a ruling. But the process doesn’t necessarily end with Armstrong’s decision. If Seasons of Hope disagrees with Armstrong’s decision, they can request a judicial review by a district court.

    In Thursday’s filing, Chubbuck attorney Norman Reece, who, along with Idaho Falls attorney John Simmons, is representing the 19 employees, is alleging 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 as set forth above,” is written in the suit.

    In April, on the heels of the letter from Health and Welfare, Sommer said that Medicaid reimbursements were a substantial portion of Seasons’ income and that the suspension of his ability to serve as a Medicaid provider had effectively shut down his business.

    He also said in the days that followed that much of the work his roughly 100 employees had engaged in during the prior weeks was in the claims process with Medicaid and would not be paid as part of his suspension. Sommer said that although he was trying to figure out how to pay them, not receiving those funds from Medicaid would make it difficult for him to compensate those employees for the work they had done. The claims of wages and unused vacation time alleged to be owed to each of the 19 former employees ranges from just $180 in back pay for one person to nearly $6,500 in owed salary and unused vacation time to another.

    Attempts to reach Sommer or someone else with Seasons of Hope were unsuccessful as of 10 p.m. Tuesday.