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Pandemic Pandemonium!

By Helene Bednarsh



Let me start by saying this ain’t my first epidemic. It is my first pandemic, though. I work for the Boston Public Health Commission (BPCH), Infectious Disease Bureau – the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, I know a lot about. The bad, I know a lot about. The ugly, well. that cuts both ways. If I wear my BPHC mask when I venture out, it is either, “oh, you must know a lot about this virus, can you tell me everything under the sun,” OR “oh, you don’t have to worry about me social distancing from you, because I’m afraid you’re contagious.” HC


So, I’ve been working from home trying to keep my HIV Dental Program going, even though dental offices are closed. The point is that I am working. So imagine going into your office on a weekend (fear of ageism and an attempt at social distancing) and coming home to a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, and a curt one at that. Not even a Dear Helene, but instead:


"HELENE BEDNARSH: Your claim for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was filed May 19, 2020 and approved and here’s the summary of your benefits. "


YIKES! Who fired me and who filed for me? We all read about scams but hey, scam me? I don’t give out information over the phone, I do all my donations online, my passwords are encrypted. I’m safe, RIGHT? Apparently not.


Naturally, it was a holiday weekend--Memorial Day--Memorable Day, rather, and I had to wait until Tuesday at 8 am to start calling to say: “HEY, WAIT! Not me, I’m working.” The phone rings 30 times and disconnects. Repeat, repeat ad infinitum. Aha, I’ll find a number to start a text chat and say, “HEY GUYS, I am working.” I’m transferred to an agent. What seems like 36 hours later, the agent asks, “How can I help you? and I say, “I DID WHAT? That claim is a fraud.”


The chat continues. I’ve broken through, I think to myself. Then they provide me with the email address and phone number of the SCAMSTER who filed! If one can bellow by chat, I do. “No, that’s not me! Stop the checks! Who has my identity?” I ask the agent why his office didn’t call that person. If a person can have chutzpah by chat, he does. He tells me they can’t make calls and tell ME to call the crook! Um. yeah, “Hello, you stole my identity and I want it back please.” Seriously? No way.


And so begins my email and phone journey through the bureaucratic maze: The Fraud Verification Department. The Massachusetts Attorney General. Check my credit cards, check my home deed, enroll in a credit monitoring program. My state representative. The Department of Unemployment. The bottom line: five weeks later, I’m still waiting. The consolation prize is that it’s now officially under investigation. Pandemic pandemonium!


I know, I know…I shouldn’t complain because I am working, regardless of the ineptitude of this clearly overwhelmed agency. At least my key still opens my office and my badge lets me into the building, even on a weekend.






Helene Bednarsh is Director of the Ryan White Dental Program, Boston Public Health Commission. She is Vice President of HIVDENT and is the Dental Director for the New England AIDS Education and Training Center. She has published numerous articles. When she’s not advocating for something, she’s knitting.

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