Columbus business helps unemployed debtors find jobs

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO
Gloria Roberts, left, is training to become a home health aide. The collection agency Choice Recovery recently helped Roberts, an unemployed single mother, land a job so she can make progress paying off a medical bill.

February 25, 2015

Eighteen years in the debt-collection business has led Chad Silverstein to one unmistakable conclusion: The vast majority of people with outstanding debt - especially in the health-care arena - want to pay their bills.

"What we've found is that people do care," said Silverstein, president and founder of Columbus-based Choice Recovery, which has collected an estimated $200 million for more than 4,500 clients since its creation in 1997.

"They're just stuck."

Often, the people targeted for collection by doctors, hospitals and ambulance services have no assets to speak of, no reliable sources of income and, perhaps most significant, no prospects for improving their lot anytime soon, Silverstein said.

Demanding immediate payment from such individuals, he said, is a lose-lose proposition: Neither the debtor nor the debt collector has any room to maneuver, all but guaranteeing an unsatisfactory outcome for all parties.

Put in less-businesslike terms: You can't squeeze blood from a turnip.

Early last year, that maxim prompted Silverstein to try a new approach.

Choice Recovery, which pledges in its corporate mission to "change the perception of collections," set up a division that essentially operates as an employment agency.

Now, besides scouring databases for last-known addresses and cranking out collection letters, the company pores over job listings and polishes applicants' resumes.

"When we call someone and say, 'Hey, you have this balance and it's due,' and they tell us, 'I can't pay the bill because I'm not working,' instead of just ending the phone call and telling them it's going to hit their credit report, we direct them to the customer-care department and help them get back on their feet," Silverstein said.

"We'll set up job interviews. We'll walk them through the interview process. Basically, we'll do anything we can to help them get out of the situation that they're in."

Choice Recovery even offers guidance on securing a high-school GED, signing up for government-subsidized health insurance and registering to vote.

"It just makes sense to us that if we can add value to people instead of just trying to collect money from them, they'll want to work with us," said Silverstein, 39, who started the company while he was a student at Ohio State University.

"We know that eventually, if they get back on their feet, they're going to want to pay their bills - which helps our clients."

Gloria Roberts is a case in point.

The single mother of three initially came to the company's attention because of an overdue medical bill.

"I had an emergency and went to the hospital," she said. "I got a bill for the ambulance ride for $900."

Roberts said she wanted to pay the bill but couldn't - not after being out of work for 11 months.

Recently, with the help of the employment counselors at Silverstein's company, she landed a position with Home Care by Black Stone, a Cincinnati-based supplier of home-health aides.

"I was ecstatic," Roberts said. "Actually, we had a little celebration here in the office. Then I went home and told all my family about it."

Choice Recovery helped 52 people land jobs last year. Silverstein hopes to triple that number in 2015.

One wall in Choice Recovery's cubicle-filled call center on Old Henderson Road is covered with thank-you notes from one-time collection targets who've secured employment with the company's assistance.

Among the messages: "I had the best customer-service experience ever from a collection agency."

"My goal is to wallpaper the entire office with them," Silverstein said, scanning the letters.

"It clearly defines who we are as a company - and that makes me feel good when I come in here every day and when I go home every night."

WBNS-10TV associate producer Mary Posani contributed to this story.