By ANDREW W. GRIFFIN
Oklahoma Watchdog, editor
Posted: November 11, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY – When Lesley Ley, an Oklahoma City-based licensed practical nurse heard that a national company was hiring nurses to administer flu shots in a local mall, she jumped at the chance to make some extra money prior to a trip.
Ley said she first became aware of the flu clinic, to be set up at Penn Square Mall, in September. She provided a copy of an email that was circulated and stated: “WellCheck will be operating its 2010 seasonal flu shot program in 150 malls in 35 states.”
The email was sent out on Sept. 3, 2010 by a woman named Gabriela Miller, representing New York-based WellCheck run by brothers Jack and Ralph Tawil. The email also lists the information WellCheck requires from nurses who are interested in participating.
Ley said she agreed to participate. She said she sent WellCheck her W2 information, nurse license verification form, and other forms of personal information. She said they agreed to pay her $22 an hour.
But when Ley arrived at Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City on Saturday Oct. 9, she and another young woman who was to work as a greeter were the only ones to show up. The young woman, Ley said, had been hired through a local temp agency.
“It started to get weird when I showed up,” Ley said.
She did not have the assistance she needed and she also was not able to get a hold of anyone associated with WellCheck in case she had a question or concern.
Ley said a courier arrived with the flu vaccine in a cooler, along with “brand new syringes” and some informational pamphlets.
“As far as supplies we had an abundance,” Ley said. “I know a lot of the other locations didn’t and I’m not sure why.”
The courier told Ley that he got the vaccine from a warehouse somewhere in Oklahoma City and that there was enough vaccine “for everyone in the state of Oklahoma.”
Ley said she assumed he was exaggerating.
Checking the material, she noted that the vaccine was in new boxes from known companies like Novartis and Merck.
“The lot numbers, the expiration dates … they looked legit,” Ley said.
Ley wants to emphasize that in the weeks since this occurred she is confident everyone who came by received a legitimate vaccine.
Over the course of the weekend, Ley said things were slow. She gave flu shots to approximately 40 people and that Medicare information and credit card information were taken down and sent to WellCheck.
“I didn’t feel comfortable giving (injections) to pediatric children,” Ley said, adding that things about the whole unprofessional operation left her a little concerned.
“I turned away the pediatric children, telling their parents to take them to their pediatrician. You don’t know if they’re allergic or whatever,” Ley said.
At the end of the weekend, Ley said she had a bad feeling about the clinic and wondered if she would hear from anyone connected with WellCheck. She never did.
Asked about why she thought things were slow at the mall flu clinic, Ley said she thought things were slow because it was “too early in the season” and “people weren’t ready for it.”
The following week, an email began circulating, allegedly from WellCheck. It stated that the mall flu clinic program was suspended and that “We apologize for the inconvenience. We expect for all payroll to be brought up to date in advance of a re-open.”
At WellCheck.com, there is nothing on the site except a statement saying that the “shopping mall flu vaccination program has ended. An email and phone number is left and it says “leave a message and a representative will get back to you as soon as possible.”
Ley said she has not heard from anyone from WellCheck. She has called the number and it simply goes to an answering machine.
It was clear that something was up. Talking to other nurses around the country via email it was becoming clear that nobody involved in the WellCheck mall flu clinics was getting paid. A lot of information was circulating claiming that nurses hadn’t sold enough shots, some going for $28 a pop. But they weren’t required to meet a goal. All it did, Ley said, “was lead to utter chaos.”
“I was freaking out because I began thinking, ‘what have I injected into these people. What if it was botulism or something?”
She called the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, the Oklahoma Labor Department the state employment board, yet no one had any answers.
And WellCheck, with an address on Manhattan’s high-dollar Avenue of the Americas certainly wasn’t taking her calls.
“I just felt like I couldn’t get a hold of anybody,” Ley said.
Meanwhile, around the country, nurses involved in the WellCheck program began to realize that they had been scammed.
What is interesting is that WellCheck’s Gabriela Miller had sent out an email on Oct. 6 saying that the nurses who worked on the weekends of Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 were supposed to receive their checks but wouldn’t just yet because of “a system error” caused them to “suspend the direct deposit system for this cycle and issue all payments via paper check.”
Some nurses, many who are furious, have done some research on WellCheck and a blog, found here.
The blog, at Wellcheck.org, nurses and administrators who took part in the program left dozens of comments about their bad experience with the outfit. The lack of bandages and basic medical equipment. And in states ranging from New Jersey to Minnesota – 35 in all.
Wrote one person on the Wellcheck.org blog: “EXTREMELY UNPROFESSIONAL! We were not given an emergency reaction kit which is against all policies. Wellchecks advertising was a joke and everyone in the mall thought it was an inappropriate/unprofessional atmosphere to get a flu shot. The location was horrible, both the nurses and I complained about the location NUMEROUS times and that there was a lack of demand for the flu shot.”
Others wrote that having a flu clinic in a mall was not safe and sterile, considering the use of needles and the potential of exposure to blood-borne pathogens.
And it appears that the Tawil brothers have scammed folks before. An online court document shows a firm called Checkups, also operated by Jack and Ralph Tawil, was sued in Florida Southern District Court in 2008.
In fact, Ley said Ralph Tawil allegedly emailed a nurse who wasn’t paid and told her that “he intended to pay but that they didn’t have the money.”
Oklahoma Watchdog was able to call both Ralph Tawil and Jack Tawil, owners of WellCheck. Neither Tawil answered the phone but a message was left for them to call us back with a comment, if he wished. We have not yet received a call back from either Tawil.
A collection agency called Randall & Richards, based in Tucson, Ariz., has taken up the case and Kindy Roeller, a spokeswoman for the firm said a “collector is working the account” and that they have “WellCheck in full collection.” Roeller added that WellCheck may be filing for bankruptcy.
Roeller also said that she and her company are amazed at the number of people who have been affected by this experience involving WellCheck.
“It’s amazing. We have people calling from all over the country,” Roeller said.
As for Penn Square Mall, we contacted Les Morris at Simon Property Group in Indianapolis, which owns that mall and a number of the malls that participated in the WellCheck flu shot clinics. He responded via email.
Morris wrote: “WellCheck was a tenant at various Simon malls and any questions regarding their business operations should be directed to WellCheck.”
Meanwhile, Lesley Ley said nobody has gotten paid, as of last week. She said Penn Square Mall representatives have either been unhelpful or simply rude and unprofessional.
When asked what she’s learned from this experience, Ley sighed and thought about it for a second.
“Honestly, listen to your gut. I kind of questioned it to begin with because it wasn’t a local company,” Ley said. “I knew I should have listened to my gut.”
Copyright 2010 Oklahoma Watchdog