On paper, the job looked like a home run to Angela Coffaro.
The Texan would fly to Rochester to help Mayo Clinic staff launch Epic, a new electronic medical records system. It's a program Coffaro knows well from her many years working as an operating room nurse.
The hours would be long, but the pay worth it. As much as $15,000 for a month's work.
"This was actually my very first travel assignment ever," Coffaro said. "And my last."
She's back in Texas now. She walked away from the money and the job just days after starting.
Coffaro is one of seven nurses hired to help with the Epic installation who complained to MPR News about botched assignments, housing chaos and harsh treatment at the hands of the vendor, HCI Group. MPR News has verified the license of each nurse.
None reported harm to patients and generally praised Mayo, but their experiences with a key vendor mar an immensely important, expensive and complicated transition for the clinic.
Mayo hired HCI Group to recruit hundreds of professionals familiar with the Epic electronic medical record software. They'd train in on the Mayo version of the system and coach clinic employees through the overhaul.
Both Mayo and HCI declined to say how much Mayo is paying HCI for its services.
Nurses: Expertise not tapped
For Coffaro, an operating room nurse, the final straw was being assigned, not to an operating room, but to an outpatient eye clinic. Her Epic skills were useless in that setting, she said.
"I can't imagine how frustrated I would be if I was staff and told [that] an expert is coming in to help you, [and] to receive someone who could do nothing more than say, 'I don't know. I'm going to have to find that answer out for you.'"
A second nurse echoed Coffaro's concerns. That nurse agreed to be quoted but not named because she hasn't been paid yet and fears getting stiffed.
She has expertise in using Epic for intensive care and the operating room. She said her two previous stints with HCI were fine. But she quit the Mayo project within the first week because she was assigned to radiology — where she has no useful Epic experience.
She said HCI's leadership instilled a feeling in contracted staff that they should improvise if necessary — without complaint — or they would be fired.
"In health care, you don't 'fake it till you make it.' You don't go out there and do your job until you know what you're doing," she said.
A critical care nurse also declined to use her name because she's still awaiting payment. Like others MPR News spoke with, the critical care nurse said HCI did not permit unscheduled bathroom breaks during training.
"We're sitting in orientation for six to eight hours," she said. "I got up to use the restroom. One of the HCI employees told me 'No,' that I could not use the restroom. And I really, really had to go."
Long waits, longs drives
This is not the first time HCI has fueled complaints. A group of workers recently sued the company, saying HCI owed them overtime. The company recently agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle the case.
In this case, Mayo declined to comment on a vendor's personnel issues, but said the transition to Epic has gone well. HCI said the same, though it acknowledges correcting what it described as "small unforeseen challenges" at the beginning.
Nurses describe them differently.
"Our first day here was horrendous!" said Kumbi Madiye, a nurse practitioner from Cleveland. She said she arrived in Rochester around 9 a.m. the day before training started. HCI had promised she'd have her own hotel room, near her assigned workstation, on arrival.
"We'd been told that you just arrive, you'll be given your room assignment and then go and rest," she said.
Instead, Madiye waited 14 hours at the Kahler Grand Hotel downtown to get her assigned hotel room — only to be told at 11 p.m. it was an hour-and-a-half away in the Twin Cities.
"We weren't told that we would be spend all day there," she said.
Two other nurses and a clinical director told MPR News similar stories about long waits for hotel rooms, sometimes overnight, and hotel rooms over an hour away. One said she shared her room with a nurse who'd been stranded at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The hotel room scramble forced HCI to delay training by a day — a day that contractors say they're still unsure they'll be paid for.
HCI is slated to help Mayo in Florida and Arizona migrate to the new system next.