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March 5, 2019

Medicaid expansion spurs state initiative to open call center in Wilton

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Workers who will be losing their jobs when Barclaycard closes its call center in Wilton at the end of the month learned Monday that the state plans to open a temporary call center at the Wilton Career Center to assist with the state's Medicaid expansion. Maine Department of Health and Human Services said it will need up to 45 people to staff the temporary call center for at least six months.

A temporary call center in Wilton that will help Maine Department of Health and Human Services staff respond to calls related to Medicaid expansion will also give at least a temporary respite to some of those who will lose their jobs when Barclaycard closes its call center at the end of the month.

The DHHS announced Monday that it will open a temporary call center at the Wilton Career Center in April and hire 45 people to staff it for six months. The jobs may be permanent if the need continues, the department said in a news release. The call center will be funded through the current DHHS budget.

British credit-card processing company Barclaycard announced in January that its Wilton call center, one of four it has in the United States, will close at the end of March, putting 227 people out of work.

DHHS will hold a job fair 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday for the positions at the Barclaycard call center, 128 Weld Road.

The Wilton call center is a niche site for Barclaycard, dealing with card retention, fraud and dispute resolution, as well as regular customer service issues.

Gov. Janet Mills, in the news release, said the impending shutdown of the Barclaycard call center "is a blow to the people of western Maine."

"When it became clear that more capacity would be needed to respond to calls about MaineCare expansion, my administration decided to meet that need by opening a call center in Wilton at a facility already used by the state," said Mills, who is from nearby Farmington. "This new call center will allow us to enroll people in MaineCare and offer temporary employment to people in western Maine at the same time, including some of those who are losing their jobs at Barclays at the end of this month."

When the announcement the call center would close came in January, just days after Mills' inauguration, she said that the state Department of Labor would "use all available resources to support the employees, their families and the Wilton community.

"This is deeply disappointing news that will have a profound impact on the community, the employees and their families," Mills said at the time. "We will marshal the resources of the Department of Labor and other government agencies to support the employees, their families, and the community, beginning by deploying a rapid response team to meet with the employees to provide reemployment services and help evaluate their health insurance and severance options."

Consumers for Affordable Health Care and Western Maine Community Action have been helping employees prepare resuments, find job resources and and understand health care options once their insurance ends March 31. Adult education centers in Farmington and Livermore Falls also held workforce training sessions for employees last month.

Workers from around the region

Town Manager Rhonda Irish said in January that workers at Barclaycard were not only from Wilton, in southern Franklin County, but also from other towns in the region, including Jay, Livermore Falls and Rumford.

"It drew from probably a half-hour drive radius," she said. "Barclay was a great employer for the region. People really enjoyed their jobs there."

Also closing in the coming months are the Farmington Keybank branch and the FArmington Coca-Cola sales center, putting at least a dozen people out of work.

Barclaycard is one of the town's two largest employers. Jarden Manufacturing, which makes plastic tableware, employs more than 200, Irish said. Barclaycard opened in Wilton in 2008 with 10 employees, largely to support a new credit card with L.L. Bean, and employed more than 400 at one point. L.L. Bean ended its relationship with the company in July.

Barclaycard leases space in a portion of the 221,000-square-foot former Bass Shoe Co. complex on Weld Road owned by Western Maine Development LLC.

Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman said in the Monday news release that the department is thrilled that those who will lose their jobs, as well as others, have a new employment opportunity "to help implement such an important health care program for our state."

Since the announcement about the closing, the Rapid Response team, as well as Maine

DHHS will begin training for the 45 call center jobs starting April 1.

The new call center, which will be at the labor department career center, 865 U.S. Route 2, will help people get information more quickly and streamline the Medicaid enrollment experience, the release said.

Calls to the Office for Family Independence's Customer Service Center with questions about department programs, including Medicaid expansion, will be directed to the call center to learn more and receive initial help signing up if they are eligible. Those who want to enroll will be directed to eligibility specialists to complete the process.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people eager to learn about the Medicaid expansion," Commissioner of Health and Human Services Jeanne Lambrew said in the release. "This call center will help us be more responsive to people who have been waiting for health care coverage."

After Mills took office, she signed an executive order directing Maine Department of Health and Human Services to begin implementation of Medicaid expansion approved by Maine voters in November 2017, but repeatedly blocked by Gov. Paul LePage during his final year in office.

The expansion of Medicaid — MaineCare in Maine — will provide coverage to more than 70,000 Mainers.

Lambrew at the time said full implementation would take time. The process included:

  • DHHS making changes to process applications for those seeking Medicaid coverage, and to seek the earliest possible approvals as allowed under the expansion act.
  • DHHS partnering with health care providers, organizations, patients, patient and consumer representatives and other stakeholders to create and implement a communications and outreach strategy to help enroll eligible Mainers, with a primary goal of speeding up application processing time and eligibility determinations to provide coverage as quickly as possible.
  • DHHS working with the state Legislature to identify sustainable sources of funding for Medicaid Expansion to ensure eligible Mainers receive health care coverage under the Expansion Act in both the short- and long-term.
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