East Hills Business Park call center confirms that employee tested positive for COVID-19

photo by: Conrad Swanson/Journal-World File Photo

The former General Dynamics call center facility at East Hills Business Park, which is now run by Maximus, is pictured in this file photo from 2017.

UPDATED STORY (03-25-20): East Hills Business Park call center now says employee lied about testing positive for COVID-19

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A worker at one of Lawrence’s largest private employers has tested positive for the new coronavirus, the company confirmed, and one of the company’s buildings in the East Hills Business Park has been temporarily closed.

On Monday, the Journal-World reported that call center operator Maximus had sent a notice to employees that it was temporarily closing its Noria Road call center “for the health and safety of our employees.”

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the company confirmed to the Journal-World that an employee had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The company, however, also operates an adjacent building that is just west of the facility that was closed on Monday evening. In an employee message that was shared with the Journal-World, company officials said employees in that building — known as the Greenway building — should continue to report to work.

The employee message — which did not specifically state that a positive case had been identified at the facility — said the Noria Road building was being closed to “allow sanitation to occur and in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”

Employees who called the Journal-World and asked to remain anonymous said they were nervous about the Greenway building remaining open. They said a significant number of employees cross back and forth between the two buildings.

But Lisa Miles, senior vice president for corporate communications and investor relations, said the company did not find evidence the Greenway building had been impacted by the positive case.

“In this instance and as outlined by the CDC, we completed the tracing and notified other employees who were in contact with the individual to self-quarantine,” Miles said via email. “Through the investigation we determined that the individual had no contact with the Greenway building. In consultation with our Chief Medical Officer, we determined the site was safe for our employees.”

In a separate statement sent on Tuesday, the company said its facilities team has quadrupled its cleanings, and the company is “systematically moving employees to work from home, in partnership with our government clients for whom this is a new model.”

The statement said the work-from-home plan also faces challenges because of shortages in critical IT equipment, such as laptops and headsets.

“Our employees should not have to choose between their health and coming to work during this pandemic,” the statement said.

Maximus took over the call center operations that previously were owned by General Dynamics. It wasn’t immediately clear how many employees Maximus has at the East Hills Business Park locations. But when General Dynamics operated the facility, it generally was considered the largest private employer in the county. The buildings housed about 2,100 employees, according to data kept by the Lawrence chamber of commerce.

The call centers may be considered “essential businesses” that are allowed to operate with an exemption to Douglas County’s recently issued stay-at-home order. The call center has government contracts to provide customer service for Medicare, the health insurance marketplace and other similar work.

The company said it was unclear when the building would reopen. The message said “emergency paid sick leave will be in effect and paid at 100% of the regular rate of pay.” In its statement Tuesday, the company said it had set aside funds “for a variety of scenarios that might impact employees during the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, such as quarantine, care for sick family members, or child care.

As of Monday afternoon, there were six identified cases of COVID-19 in Douglas County, according to state health officials. No additional cases were announced Tuesday. The local health department has released limited details about those cases — five people who recently traveled out of state or country and another who appears to have contracted the disease locally. It was unknown which case, if any, was related to the Maximus employee who tested positive.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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