TriStar Medical Group chain under ‘significant financial stress’, keeps rural doctors waiting for pay
TriStar Medical Group chain under ‘significant financial stress’, keeps rural doctors waiting for pay.Photo: . Pictures may be protected by copyright.
Posted August 09, 2019 09:14:02 Photo: TriStar’s MD said he was aware of “periods when there have been delayed invoice payments”. (ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Kellie Hollingworth) A chain of 50 medical clinics across regional Australia has been under “significant financial stress for 18 months” resulting in doctors, some on temporary working visas, often not being paid for weeks or months.Key points: TriStar’s managing director wrote to staff in May saying the business “had been in a period of significant financial stress for 18 months” Doctors have told the ABC that they have gone weeks, even months, without pay, which the AMA is investigating Staff on temporary visas are nervous to speak out when experiencing issues with payment TriStar Medical Group provides some rural and regional towns with their only bulk-billing general practices.A letter to staff in May from the managing director for Tristar, Dr Khaled El-Sheikh, said the business “had been in a period of significant financial stress for 18 months”. “Tristar has not escaped the significant impact the ongoing Medicare freeze, changes in supervision and government regulations that continue to prevent doctors from establishing their practices in regional, rural and metropolitan areas,” the statement said. “I am aware during this time that there are periods when there have been delayed invoice payments. “However I am guaranteeing you that payments and all monies owed for services rendered are secure now and into the future. “I have been busy working behind the scene to source long-term solutions and can confirm that we are close to a financial position that will see us put the current situation to rest,” Dr El-Sheikh said in the statement.Dr El-Sheikh did not respond to repeated requests by the ABC for an interview.In June, Melbourne-based engineering and contracting company Mabanco Pty Ltd took Dr El-Sheikh to the Supreme Court requesting to wind-up the company, meaning it was chasing the company for unpaid debts.That notice was dismissed by the court.Weeks, months without pay Doctors from TriStar said they were afraid to speak to the media because their visas are dependent on them being employed.Two doctors told the ABC they have gone weeks, and sometimes months, without getting paid.A spokesperson for the Australia Medical Association (AMA) confirmed they were looking into at least one reported case by a TriStar employee concerning wages.Jane, who did not want her real name to be used, worked as a receptionist at a TriStar clinic in Victoria.She said she would often answer calls from doctors claiming they had not been paid for weeks at a time. “Some doctors in my clinic weren’t paid for three months, and if they were it was for two weeks at time,” she said. “It started with a call every other week and it turned into calls daily.” She said she was concerned that this might have been happening at clinics across the country.Photo: Rural Doctors Association of Australia’s Peta Rutherford said workers on visas are often reluctant to speak up about conditions. (Supplied: RDAA) The Fair Work Ombudsman said it would conduct enquiries into the reports of delayed payments.Chief executive of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Peta Rutherford, said often international doctors relied on their employers for visas and could be nervous to speak out when experiencing issues with payment. “I think there are cohorts that do speak out, but certainly some doctors who are on temporary visas are a little bit more reluctant to engage in these processes,” she said. “They are concerned what the impact may be on their current employment arrangements or their visa situations.” Jane said “the doctors are terrified”. “They have to be working to stay here.I think they don’t understand our labour laws and they haven’t been given enough information either,” she said.Superannuation payments not made TriStar was founded in Victoria in 2003 and in recent years has been closing or restructuring some of its clinics.A credit report into TriStar’s main operating company by Equifax Swiftcheck shows it is now deemed a ‘high credit risk’. A pay slip for a TriStar doctor, obtained by the ABC, shows they have been paid under a separate company name with a different ABN.After leaving TriStar, Jane realised she had also become embroiled in the company’s financial struggles. “I contacted my super fund to transfer my super into my new fund and they told me I wasn’t paid any super for over a year,” she said. “I was gobsmacked, I had no indication it wasn’t being paid.I had been a long-term employee so I just trusted they were doing the right thing.” Photo: Regional Australians could lose access to general practice doctors if TriStar Medical Group was to go under. (ABC News: Damien McIntyre) Jane said she contacted the ATO after receiving no answers from TriStar. “I received a letter from the ATO that they would retrieve those funds from TriStar,” she said. “I know of several receptions from several clinics in two states that are in the same position as me.They were also trying to get answers but couldn’t get them or were given generic statements from head office. “The ones that are still there they don’t know about it, unless someone has told them.” One of the doctors that spoke to the ABC said he was also concerned entitlements such as superannuation were not being paid. ‘Doors were locked’ Jane said one story she heard while working at TriStar was particularly disturbing. “In one clinic, several staff turned up for work and the doors were locked and they didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “They were given no answers from management and in the end were just told the clinic had shut. “A lot of the clinics are single-doctor clinics.I know of four that have shut down because the doctor was so sick to death of not being paid.” Jane said if TriStar was to go under, it would be disastrous for small communities. “I worked at one of the only bulk-billing practices in a town and a lot of clients were vulnerable.They can’t afford to pay $75 or more to see a doctor and wait for a rebate,” she said. “It would put a burden on everyone because those people with a cough and a cold would then have to go to the local hospital.” Photo: Professor Julian Rait says regional hospitals and clinics would not cope with the extra workload if a company like TriStar fails. (Supplied: AMA) President of the AMA in Victoria, Julian Rait, said he held serious concerns for regional Australians’ access to doctors if a company like TriStar was to fail. “There would be a very serious problem meeting the needs of people through the remaining services,” he said. “If you suddenly have the withdrawal of a number of clinics that provide bulk-billed services, it would be very difficult to replace them overnight. “The existing GP services and hospitals wouldn’t cope with that extra workload.” Quality regional healthcare investment needed Ms Rutherford of the Rural Doctors Association said investment from the Federal Government was desperately needed. “I don’t think corporate practices are alone in the impact of the Medicare freeze … [and] we acknowledge the Government has now taken action to lift the freeze,” she said. “But there needs to be additional investment into general practice, and that needs to be quality general practice.” Jane, the former TriStar employee, said she agreed with TriStar’s managing director that the Medicare freeze did have an impact.A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the Government could not comment on the pressures faced by general practices as they could arise from a range of issues.It said the Australian Government provided a range of support and incentives for rural and regional general practices and continues to invest in quality rural and regional general practice.Topics: community-and-society, health, doctors-and-medical-professionals, regional, ballarat-3350, horsham-3400, mildura-3500, geelong-3220, frankston-3199, dandenong-3175, kangaroo-flat-3555, avoca-3467, portland-3305, swan-hill-3585, traralgon-3844, wangaratta-3677, wodonga-3690, coffs-harbour-2450, wentworth-2648, albury-2640, mount-gambier-5290, mission-beach-4852, canberra-2600, palmerston-0830, epping-3076, smithtown-2440, west-wyalong-2671 Source link Finance News Australia . 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