The Department of Health and Human Services told employees it will be closing the Wilton Call Center and transferring employees to its Lewiston office. The Franklin County legislative delegation are unhappy with the move and concerned how it will impact the call center’s 45 employees and the local economy. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

WILTON — One of Gov. Janet Mill’s focal points on her overall agenda has been bolstering the rural, local economies of Maine.

But Franklin County’s legislative delegation has concerns that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has not gotten the message.

On Jan. 14, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) told employees it would be closing its Wilton Call Center and transferring them to the DHHS Lewiston office in April, according to a letter acquired by the Franklin Journal.

Around 45 employees in the region stand to be impacted by the move (and potentially lose their job) when it comes time to make the long, costly commute to Lewiston.

The local delegation, which says DHHS did not inform it of the move, is concerned about the impacts the transfer could have on employees and the local economy.

The DHHS Wilton Call Center opened in May 2019. Locals were enthusiastic about the opening following the 2019 closure of the Barclays call center, Wilton’s “largest employer,” which laid off 227 employees.


Though the call center was intended to be temporary, DHHS hired the Wilton workers as permanent employees in March 2020.

The Wilton Call Center fields inquiries about eligibility for DHHS programs, including MaineCare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. For a period of time, employees were also assisting with COVID-19 contact tracing.

The call center, on U.S. Route 2 and state Route 4, shares a building with the CareerCenter owned by Randal Cousineau.

The call center’s lease in that building is now ending and DHHS has chosen not to renew it because “the current site is inadequate for them,” Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said at a Maine CDC Briefing Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Lambrew said it is a “very crowded facility” with “only one bathroom for a lot of people.”

DHHS Communications Director Jackie Farwell added in a statement that there have been additional issues with the facility, such as icy parking lots and malfunctioning heat and air conditioning that Cousineau has not resolved in a “consistent or timely” manner.


The Franklin County legislative delegation — state Sen. Russell Black, R-Franklin, Rep. Randall Hall, R-Wilton, and Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington, find the reasons to move the office to Lewiston dubious.

So does Tina Driscoll, a customer service representative at the call center, who said there are two, two-stall bathrooms for men and women shared with the CareerCenter in a hallway that connects the two facilities. She said she’s never heard any complaints about overcrowding before, particularly in the wake of the pandemic when around only 15 employees are in the office at a time.

Farwell said that the DHHS had looked at a number of facilities in the Franklin County region, but that none were suitable.

However, Sen. Black does “not think that Department of Human Services did due diligence to check on what was available in this area.”

All three politicians questioned why the call center can’t move to the former Barclays call center office, which is currently unoccupied.

Farwell wrote that they opted not to use the Barclays offices because “that facility is designed for a workforce at least twice the size of the Wilton call center.”


But building owner Travis Gray said that he’d be willing to negotiate with DHHS – offer them the space they need to run the facility at a reasonable price.

However, DHHS has not contacted Gray, nor his maintenance manager, he said.

Landry suspects that DHHS is not being forthcoming about its reasons and wants to “consolidate” the two offices.

Black thinks DHHS doesn’t want to pay a lease and would rather use the bigger facility in Lewiston, where there is a “bigger work pool.”

“It’s cost cutting over employees,” he said.

DHHS says “staff who are already successfully teleworking may continue to do so, at this time.”


However, Driscoll said that remote work is not a viable option for her or a number of employees at the call center. Employees that can’t work remotely due to unreliable broadband access countywide and have non-confidential workspaces (a necessity for the job) would ultimately have to begin commuting come April.

The commutes will be time consuming at two to three hours daily for employees who live across Franklin County.

Driscoll said it will also be costly with around $16 per hour pay to cover costs of transportation and additional childcare.

Additionally, Driscoll said call center management told employees in February meetings that they would be expected to return to the office full time once policies allowing remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end.

Mills administration Legislative Director Tom Abello told Wilton Selectperson Tom Saviello via email that “if they telework, they will be able to keep doing that.”

DHHS did not respond to questions about whether the staff of 45 employees would be able to continue teleworking permanently. Abello did not answer the Franklin Journal’s calls by the time of publication.


“If that’s the case, no one has addressed that with us,” Driscoll said.

Even so, DHHS teleworking policy requires employees to be in the office twice a week.

The delegates, Saviello and Driscoll all raised concerns about the potential impacts on the economy.

They’ll be taking their business, shopping elsewhere – perhaps closer to Lewiston, both Black and Driscoll said.

The delegation finds the closure especially frustrating in the face of Gov. Janet Mills’s goal to bolster rural economies through various policies and funding plans.

Mills has talked about the issues that face rural areas. Franklin County is particularly impacted by a childcare workforce shortage and a lack of broadband access, which she is seeking to address in her policies.


The delegates questioned how this move and Mills’ goals are lining up in a situation where both childcare and broadband access come in to play.

Mills and Lambrew “are not on the same page,” Black said.

Landry said Mills was not informed of the closure until the delegation started speaking out.

“I think it’s kind of embarrassing for the governor while she’s … promoting growth in Franklin and rural counties, to have [DHHS] go and pull something like this without her even knowing it,” Landry said. “There’s a lack of communication somewhere.”

As it stands, it’s unclear how many call center employees will be out of work – whether in April or if the remote work policy ever comes to an end.

Driscoll said her impression from discussion during meetings is that most of the employees will be out of work if they are required to travel to Lewiston.


But Black is working to save those jobs. He said he’s introducing a bill in the Legislature that would stop the closure. The Maine Service Employees Association has asked call center employees to write to their local legislators in support of the bill, Driscoll said.

Landry told the Franklin Journal that on Tuesday, Feb. 22, he, Black and Hall met with Commissioner Lambrew, Abello and Molly Bogart, DHHS director of government relations, to discuss the closure.

Landry said he is hopeful the officials are going to “work with us” to keep the call center local.

“We got their attention, hopefully they’re going to work hard to make sure [the employees] stay in Franklin,” Landry said.

However, he said that same day, Call Center supervisors gave employees questionnaires about how they’ll be moving forward in the transfer. So it’s unclear at this time what the future holds for the Call Center and employees.

Driscoll is “disappointed” that she will have to leave the position due to the unsustainable commute. She loves this job and “helping” people in need, she said. She’s nervous about losing her benefits. And, now her plans to work in the position until she retires in three years are out the door.

Landry said he’s heard from one employee who will lose her childcare and have to go on state welfare if she loses the job.

“We’re all very content in our jobs,” Driscoll said. “We are working in a call center because that’s what we want to do, what most of them have done all of their lives.”

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