Qwest: The Phone Line We Installed In Your Father's Nursing Home Never Worked, But Pay Us Anyway

My father grew up in Ottawa, a small Midwest town in Illinois. For the majority of his life, he had 2 full-time jobs. He was the receiving clerk for a hardware store and he was also a house painter. He went to work between 3 to 5 AM and rarely got home until after dark, 6 days a week. He was very active and self-sufficient so when in 1992 he was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive case of multiple sclerosis, he was devastated as was my entire family. His MS never went into regression and within 5 years he was wheelchair bound, in a nursing home, and very reliant on others.

In 2006, my mother and I moved to Owatonna, Minnesota so she could be near her family because she too developed major medial condition and needed familial support. Of course, my father also moved here to support her. He was placed in a local nursing home and was fairly content, with one large exception. After living 60+ year in the same town and becoming a something of a local fixture, it’s only natural that he wanted to keep in touch with his friends and family there. Obvious answer, get a phone.

So enters QWest

With the permission and encouragement of the nursing home staff, he had a phone line put in that was independent of the building systems, so he could call out and people could call him without having to go through an operator. The very same day the line was put in, which had been done while he was in the dining room having lunch, he found he could not receive calls. Within a week, a technician checked his line and said everything was working perfectly. He was wrong. My father still could not receive calls. After yet another technician checked and failed to actually do anything about it, my father canceled his service.

The next month he received a bill. A bill for services not rendered.

Quickly, he called Qwest and explained that he never had service and did not think he should be required pay for nothing. The next month, received another bill. He called, again, and explained the situation, again, and said he was refusing to pay the bill. He was told that, according to their records, complete service ha been rendered and if he did not pay, they would send his account to collections. Since then, my father, mother and I have contacted Qwest numerous times trying to explain that, indeed, the line didn’t operate correctly. We have been stonewalled and now my mother, who is retired and has large medical bills, has to pay the bill or her credit rating will drop. Of course, I have offered many times to pay the bill for them, but as I am not on the account and my parents won’t accept the money or even tell me how much they must pay, I cannot.

Evidently Qwest’s policy is that all customers are liars and that they themselves are infallible. They must need every single penny, as my father’s bill cannot exceed $200. I understand, as it’s also a lot of money to my parents.

I now know Qwest spells their name that way. Firstly, for the geographic allusion. Secondly, because U don’t matter to them.


There are several things you can do here. First you can escalate your complaint with an EECB (executive email carpet bomb), which might be the easiest solution.

Another way to get Qwest’s attention is to file an official complaint with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. They’ll forward your complaint to Qwest and follow up on it to make sure it gets resolved. Finally, you can also complain to the Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson.

If you do end up having to pay the bill, make sure you get a copy of your phone records showing that no calls came through, then take Qwest to small claims court to recover the money you paid for the non-working phone. It’s easier than it sounds and they might not even show up to argue, in which case you’ll get a default judgment.

The email format for qwest is FirstName.LastName@qwest.com, and a list of their top executives can be found here. For more information about how to learn to launch an EECB, click here.


Edit Your Comment

  1. BugMeNot2 says:

    Anyone have experience collecting after winning a judgment in small claims? I’ve heard that there’s nothing forcing the loser to pay up.. More of a moral victory. Don’t know if it’s easier or harder with a corporation…

  2. scoosdad says:

    Verizon responded extremely quickly to my filing a verbal complaint with our state Department of Public Utilities when I had no dialtone for eleven days at Christmas, and Verizon broke endless promises to have it ‘fixed by the end of the day’. Based on that experience, I’d vote for contacting the similar body in Minnesota for fastest resolution. These execs must be getting desensitized from all these EECB’s.

    Great that you found a nursing home that let him do that. Maybe as part of your solution with Qwest, it wouldn’t hurt to suggest that it would be really nice of them if they’d reinstall the line for him, check several times with him to guarantee that it stays working, and waive the billing for a few months. I’d hate to see your dad give up one of his remaining pleasures over this. Mention this to whoever contacts you from Qwest and you might hit home with someone there. Worth a shot, the exec customer service people aren’t usually that hard-assed once you actually get to talk to them.

  3. picshereplz says:

    @BugMeNot2: It’s not too hard to collect on a large corporation, but the process to go after their assets are different in different states.

  4. MeOhMy says:

    @BugMeNot2: I’m not sure how it works if there is not a local presence, but I believe that you can have a sheriff’s deputy serve a writ of execution and seize cash or items to satisfy the judgement. The items would be sold at sheriff’s sale to pay you back.

  5. ? graffiksguru says:

    Uh, not to blame the consumer (I don’t want to piss “Mike” off) but why would you let the tech leave without testing if it gets incoming calls?

  6. ezacharyk says:


    I don’t know about small claims court, but I know that it is near impossible to collect money after winning a department of labor dispute against a previous employer. It is even harder when said employer closes up shop during the investigation and has no forwarding information.

    I don’t see small claims being any easier.

  7. chiieddy says:

    @scoosdad: Well, there is a way to bypass Qwest for the gentleman to get a phone and that’s for him to get a prepaid cellphone. That is, if there’s any reception in the nursing home.

    This does not, of course, excuse Qwest but is just an alternative solution.

    I think they have to pay the bill to start and then work on getting the money back via small claims. That so sucks.

  8. the op shoulda coughed up the money for a cell phone.

  9. baabaablacksheep says:

    A cell phone is not the solution for an older person with muscular control issues. The buttons are too small and it’s too easy to drop/misplace. A land line is the right thing with a phone with big buttons.

    Is there another option besides Qwest?

  10. PDX909 says:

    Billing issues with Qwest have been a major pain in my ass. Best to go straight to corporate (Colorado I think) and have someone address it there. Their customer service is a disgrace.

  11. johnva says:

    @baabaablacksheep: I dunno, some cellphones might be okay. Not all of them have tiny buttons.

  12. Tigerman_McCool says:

    “explained that he never had service and did not think he should be required pay for nothing”

    I’d fix the double negs before dropping the EECB…and one should be dropped.

  13. DoubleEcho says:

    @johnva: Let’s focus on the issue here. It’s not important as to whether he should get a cell phone or not, the problem is that he is being charged by a public utility for services that were NOT rendered. No matter how much it resembles a 1980’s era cell phone, it would be far easier for a person with MS to use a corded phone. It’s not going to be easy to try to hunt around for the phone if it’s lost.

    As far as testing the line when it was installed, that was Qwest’s obligation to ensure that the service worked, and if it didn’t work, to make it right. Since Qwest ignored the man when he told them it wasn’t working, this is flat out indifference. I’m really curious as to how they determined he could not receive calls.

    Bottom line, as a public utility they failed their obligations and should not be charging him for the base level of service that’s intended.

  14. Buran says:

    @johnva: There are some designed for older people, those who don’t want complicated phones, and those who can’t see well. The Jitterbug is one example.

    But that’s not the real issue here — the real issue is the failure to fix the problem on Qwest’s part.

  15. johnva says:

    @DoubleEcho: Oh, I agree. Qwest is totally in the wrong here. I’m not “blaming the victim”. I was just suggesting it more as a temporary solution since apparently this issue has been ongoing for months.

  16. nelsonj1998 says:

    – “Evidently Qwest’s policy is that all customers are liars and that they themselves are infallible.”

    I’ve thought that for a while now. I had new phone service installed and was given a number that had a prefix that was different than other prefixes in our area. Problem was that I could never receive calls. When I called to explain this they claimed that it was a problem with the other carriers in the area. All of them. According to Qwest, all the other carries must have had the same problem, rather than it possibly being a problem with Qwest. When I explained that the pay phone near my home, a Qwest pay phone, couldn’t call me either I was hung up on.

  17. scoosdad says:

    @chiieddy: Most medical facilities such as a nursing home won’t allow cellphone use in patient areas for fear that they might interfere with medical monitoring equipment. Mostly a mis-guided fear, but probably already a rule at this establishment.

    I started to offer that as a suggestion in my post, then went, “oops, no…”

    Let’s not turn this into a debate as to whether or not that’s a valid rule. If the nursing home doesn’t permit it, that’s that. A landline makes perfect sense for this gentleman since he calls locally and doesn’t need to be worrying about how much the calls are costing him. A local call on a landline is a fixed monthly charge that most elderly people feel comfortable with.

  18. MumblesFumbles says:

    I bet mail fraud would also be applicable since they are billing for services not rendered. You could beat Qwest over the head with that.

  19. scoosdad says:

    @Tigerman_McCool: Well he got “nothing” and he felt as if he didn’t have to pay for it.

    That’s a different shade of meaning than saying “did not think he should be required pay for anything.” That seems to imply that he got something and is not going to pay for any of it. I like the original phrasing better, more to the point.

  20. GrandizerGo says:

    Ummm, why would the OP’s father let them leave without verifing the service works???
    The first time fine, although that is still iffy, the second time though???

    Maybe there is nothing wrong with the line and it is the phone that is hooked up to it, Hence NOT QWEST’s PROBLEM!!!

    How does an incoming call NOT work, is there a message? A lack of ringing?
    Also the whole paragraphs of medical problems and conditions is all fluff and only needed if you are on Oprah.

    Qwest was hired to install phone line.
    No incoming calls were arriving.
    Techs came out twice as requested. Found nothing wrong.
    Being billed for service not receiving.

    Ideas / Suggestions?

  21. jliptak says:

    Qwest repair phone # 1 800-573-1311
    Qwest customer support # 1 800-244-1111

    Since it’s not clear WHY the phone service is not
    working, it’s hard to say who is at fault.

    Personally, I think that establishing what is wrong
    first (and having a trouble ticket number) will
    allow the billing problem to be resolved quickly.

    Since it seems they can dial out, a quick test is to
    try dialing yourself and see what happens (busy,
    fast busy, constant ringing, etc.). Anything other
    than busy (or voice mail) indicates that it’s a Qwest
    routing problem.

    Did the phone number get ported
    (i.e. did he keep the old phone number)? This
    information will be critical in resolving the
    issue with Qwest.

    I would recommend that you talk to a person at
    Qwest that will help you. Any Qwest employee
    should offer to help you with this issue with
    the “Spirit of Service”.

  22. rjhiggins says:

    @graffiksguru: Directly from the letter: “The very same day the line was put in, ***which had been done while he was in the dining room having lunch***, he found he could not receive calls.”

    Any other questions?

  23. rjhiggins says:

    @Tigerman_McCool: Totally disagree: It’s not a double negative, and it makes perfect sense.

  24. ? graffiksguru says:

    @rjhiggins: I’m not illiterate, I read the same thing. I’m talking about the TWO times the tech came back, you’d think the someone would ask, hey mr. technician, can you hold on a sec, I’m going to try and call the line, say from a phone in the nursing home, or somebodys cell, just to see if it rings.

  25. jliptak says:

    Assuming you want to still get the phone to work, I recommend opening a repair ticket. Once the problem is resolved and you have a repair ticket, getting the billing sorted out will be easier.

    First question: what happens when you try to call the phone from the phone? You should get a busy signal or voice mail. Anything else (fast busy, recorded message, continuous ringing) indicates a problem that Qwest should be able to figure out pretty quickly.

    Second question: was this number ported? In other words, did he try to keep his old phone number when he moved? If so, it’s quite possible that incoming phone numbers will be routed differently depending on where they came from.


  26. matt1978 says:

    @Tigerman_McCool: Good job being a douche.

  27. DonQuixote74 says:

    I am the OP, Sean.

    I thought about cell phones, but my father has very little muscular control left in his hands and unless they have cell phones that have buttons an inch square that can’t be dropped, it’s not an option. The phone he was using was corded so even if he dropped it he could attempt to pull it back by the cord.

    As for how we knew it didn’t work, it was fairly obvious. After he got the phone line, which was a new number, he called me and told me. When I tried to call him back, I got the “This number cannot be completed as dialed” autoresponse. Later, I went to see him and, just to be certain it was the number, I checked the technician’s report. I had dialed the correct number. I used his phone to call my mother and it went right through. I verified that she had the correct number and asked her to call me back. After 5 minutes of silence, I called her and she told me she got the aforementioned autoresponse. I also thought that perhaps it was the phone itself after the first tech call. My mother returned it and purchased another one. He still couldn’t receive calls.

    As for the technicians, as I said in my OP, the first time my father wasn’t even in the room when they installed the new line. The tech came in, asked my father to sign the papers, and my father was taken off to lunch. The tech was gone by the time he returned. The second tech assured my father that it was working correctly. I agree, it should’ve been tested by someone else, but there was no one else to test it. The nurses are very busy and he doesn’t like to ask for their help, or for anyone’s help. As I said in the “fluff” part of my story, my father is used to being self-sufficient and, even now, tries to do as much as he can himself. He’s very assertive and protects what little he can do like a pitbull. I guess it’s wrong for him to believe that the techs knew what they were doing.

    Taking Qwest to small claims court isn’t feasable due to his condition. Besides, between fees and transportaion rental, it would probably cost more than the bill. It’s not so much the money to me, although it’s alot to my parents, it’s the fact that Qwest refuses to believe they could be wrong. Personally, I truly feel as if they’re taking advantage of a elderly, bedridden man.

    The whole situation, plus some other problems, have gotten my father so wary of businesses that he refuses to get any phone now.

    I hope this answers most of your questions and comments. For those who agree that this situation is wrong, thank you.

  28. draffe says:

    None of you seem to know what you be talkin’ bout now.

    Since Judge Green ordered the breakup of Ma Bell back 26 years ago, there has been a thing called Inside wiring (IW). Qwest runs the phone line, known as network to the D-marc (the demarcation point between IW and Network.) The dmarc may be an old school connector in the basement of an old house, or it could be that grey box somewhere on the side of the house, or on a post outside your double wide. In apartment buildings, condos, nursing homes and other commercial settings it is a strip in a utility room, or in a metal cabinet on the back/side of the building, usually on a RJ21X as it is known. YOU are now required to check at the dmarc to see if the service is working. If it is not, then you call Qwest. If it is the old school type in the basement you call Qwest and they will check it, and at that time the technician will also add the new style box on the side of the house and then you are responsible after that. If you live in a commercial setting, the superintendant, or janitor, or whoever the building manager decides is the one responsible.

    If you have a user testable dmarc and don’t check for dialtone or do it improperly, or your maintenance crew doesn’t check at the dmarc there are only two outcomes:

    1) There IS NO dialtone present. The tech will troubleshoot the wires, Central Office (where the computer that connects your calls is, usually a drab, featureless building with a simple logo on the side), and programming (to include line translations, line porting, features, etc.) There is NO CHARGE.

    2) There IS dialtone present. You ARE CHARGED for a truck roll (around $90 depending on your state’s tariff to cover garage, tools, truck, insurance, management overhead, training, gas, etc.) and $30 or so for each half hour of tech time, and if the tech has to drive from another town, well you get to eat the drive time to the site as well. Billing stops at the time the network is determined to be in serviceable shape.

    You can avoid these charges if you purchase Linebacker, (Qwest’s insurance plan really) that will repair your IW if there is a problem, and waive that service call charge. About $6 a month. Only a regular residential building will get IW repaired (not including the phone itself), but a resident in a commercial building can purchase to insure against the dispatch charges (the building owner is responsible for IW repair).

    Some other items you should know. BEYOND THE DMARC items that cause your service to not work. Faulty phone set, bad jack, wiring cut or shorted out, IW not connected to the dmarc. (One of the biggest problems for phone companies- dead and/or crappy cordless phones.) IN A COMMERCIAL SETTING, Qwest isn’t responsible for connecting the IW to the dmarc.

    How to check at the DMARC: take a regular trimline, princess, or desk phone to the dmarc (no cordless), known as a Service Network Interface (SNI). Open the box, screwdriver needed, and you will see some modular jacks in there just like in the house. Unplug the inside wiring plug and connect your phone.
    Dead? Call phone company. Several jacks in the SNI? Check ’em all! All dead? See previous.
    Dialtone? You got inside problems.

    There you have it folks. Apply what you now know to any situation. The rules work for virtually all phone companies, not just Qwest.

    In the situation above, we have Qwest finding the dialtone good 2 the dmarc twice, time to start looking inward, I’d say. If you don’t believe Qwest, ask for a MEET at the DMARC, they will show you the dialtone working with their test set, and charge you a 3d time I’d bet. Complaining to the PUC won’t change a thing if this is the case.

    As an aside: Qwest (the corporation) hates these unproductive dispatches, the revenue isn’t worth it. They have to keep around a larger work force then necessary.

  29. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    That’s all correct, but Qwest needs to tell the OP that it’s an inside wiring problem or a phoneset problem. And since it’s a nursing home, the Qwest tech is an asshole for not doing that for the man.
    And I had my problems with Ameritech years ago when they insisted that the reason I couldn’t connect with my ISP was their fault or my my fault.
    It was a classic routing error where some idiot with a keyboard has made a simple keystroke error & nobody is capable of correcting it, let alone admitting it.

    In fact, almost every problem either I or friends of mine have had with Ameritech/SBC/AT&T have been routing errors. I know someone who couldn’t receive calls that originated with CLEC’s or long distance suppliers other than Ameritech for 11 months. It was always “It will be fixed at 7PM”. She finally moved!
    The problem is service techs no longer have to string wire pairs in the frames at the central office anymore, it’s all done by someone with a computer & keyboard, miles away. And apparently, no one double checks their work.

  30. DonQuixote74 says:

    I am the OP, Sean.

    I know all about dmarc boxes. I believe, from my father’s description, that’s what the technicians kept using as a test point. They said everything was fine, but it wasn’t. I do know that the IW was fine and correct, as it was brand new wiring, not a reinstatement of physically existing IW. It was a new jack also. Yes, normally this would have been run through the facilities existing switching system or utilities system, but this was not set up that way. It was set up as if my father’s room was an apartment or house. Wire from pole to dmarc, wire from dmarc into building to phone jack. I don’t know if my father had Linebacker and as the line was disconnected and the dmarc box was removed over 8 months ago, there’s no way to test it, yet again. However, I don’t believe that the problem had anything to do with any of the actual wiring, IW or the network wiring. I think there was a problem in Qwest’s programming. I have no idea why the techs insisted that the line was fine when it wasn’t. I wish I did. I’d hate to think they just bold-faced lied to my father, or to anyone.

    Much of this was covered in the comment that now shows just before yours. My Consumerist account was just approved, so it didn’t show until now.
    As I asked in my message to you, can you think of any reason this can happen? Personally, I can’t see any situation in which this isn’t 100% Qwest’s responsibility.

    Also, I really don’t care what any company likes or doesn’t like. Qwest, like all businesses, should do whatever it takes, for a reasonable fee, to assure that they correctly provide their services or products. In this case Qwest wants that resonable fee in exchange for services NOT provided.

    As I read all the prior posts, I was shocked by a few of them. Since when did it become the consumer’s responsibilty to make sure that a service or product works correctly? Any service or product should automatically be provided to the consumer’s expectation, within reason. Why? Because that’s why we pay them to do. It is THEIR responsibilty. If I buy a product and find out it is defective when I try to use it, I take it back and exchange it or get a refund. If a service isn’t correctly provided, then paying of the bill for said “service” is ludicrous.

    I’ve worked in many service industries and I know that there are always people who expect far too much or completely unreasonable things. I don’t think that my father’s expectation to receive calls was unreasonable.

  31. DonQuixote74 says:

    I have just been informed by my mother that the staff at the nursing home have also repeatedly called Qwest and attempted to explain the situation. They too have been stonewalled and ignored. They have first-hand knowledge that his service was, well, not service.

  32. jliptak says:

    Due to the HP pretexting scandle and new FCC rules, Qwest is required to “stonewall” anyone who is not authorized on the account.

    If Qwest were allowing just anyone to call up and affect other people’s phone service, I’m quite sure that everyone would be up in arms about that.

    Now that we know more information (incoming calls get the not in service message) and that outgoing calls work ok we know that there is a switch configuration problem.

    It’s quite possible that the problem is not in the switch that your dad’s phone is connected to (which is why I’d like to know what happens when you try and call the phone number from the same phone number). In that case, any test by the tech using the same switch would test just fine, but people who’s phone’s are connected to different switches can have the problem you are seeing.

    Now, if you are not an “authorized” person on your dad’s phone, you can still open a trouble ticket on your *own* phone account. State that you can’t call a particular phone number but that phone can call you (which I assume is true). If you can get it resolved that way, your mom or dad now has the trouble ticket that the issue was corrected with and the billing should be easier to take care of.

    My experience with phone routing is over five years old, but I don’t think it’s changed that much other than the funky three area code split they did in MN. I’d be happy to try and help. I *think* I have the account here set up so that you could send me a private e-mail if you want to.


  33. jliptak says:

    Opps. Missed the part where the line has been disconnected for eight months.

  34. Kingman says:

    Like Sean’s father, my mother went into a care facility. And we got her a phone through Qwest. And it didn’t work. We tried two phones to be sure. (Did the installer test it?) Then we realized she was too far gone to need a phone. We canceled it and were NOT charged for the service or labor. Qwest can be friendly.

  35. halvey333 says:

    I am not saying it is right or wrong, but the phone company’s, all of them, only have the responsibility to provide service to the side of your home, the terminal or demarc in a building basement. All inside wiring issues are the homeowner or building owners. If the tech came to the basement demarc and had a good line, that is the end of qwests responsibilities. The maintenance supr of the building would have to do the trouble shooting from that point to the actual apartment. That is unless they have a maintenance agreement with qwest which for a business is not common due to there maintenance staff.

  36. DonQuixote74 says:

    I understand that, but the point is that the techs must have lied or there was some rare situation is which their equipment tested ok, but it still didn’t work correctly. I believe it was something in their routing system that was faulty. If, when anyone called, there was nothing or non-stop ringing, I could believe that it was IW. When calling, people get the “This call cannot be completed as dialed..” message, no, that’s internal in their system.

    I certainly hope you’e right. So far, the CS has been utterly useless.

    I have gotten a response via email from one of they execs and I’m expecting a call today. My mother has POA over my father’s finances so legally she is able to speak to them in his stead, regardless if she’s on the account or not.

  37. SkokieGuy says:

    Calling background information about the OP father ‘fluff’ is just uneccesary and cruel. If you don’t like the way people tell their stories, you are welcome to start your own site and edit people’s stories to your liking.

    I agree with the posters speculating that the EECB’s are losing their power as they become more commonplace. You must do something to standout and draw attention to your issue. In this case, can I sugest:

    Perhaps a letter adressed to either your local television station and / or competing phone companies detailing the story, (and including all the ‘fluff’) be prepared.

    Send THAT to Qwest with a notice that the letter will be mailed in 48 hours IF
    1. Previous bill credited in full, with written confirmation faxed to you.
    2. A proper working, testing phone line to be installed at your father’s facility.

  38. SkokieGuy says:

    My last post – ‘if’ should of course read ‘unless’

  39. DonQuixote74 says:

    Just finished with the call. They were reasonable. We did have to pay for the long-distance calls my father made (over $70 of them), but everything else was dropped. Personally, I think they should’ve dropped the whole thing for all the hassle, but this is a fair compromise. The VP I contacted via email personally dealt with it and was very nice. She even said that she’d personally deal with the collections agency. If only te CS’s were s nice.

  40. chiieddy says:

    @scoosdad: I didn’t think of that one. I just thought of the concrete construction and lack of reception but you’re right. I just brought it up as an alternative to dealing with crappy phone companies that couldn’t care less about your business.

  41. chiieddy says:

    I wonder… reading the way the calls are/were being blocked to the OP’s father, I wonder if Qwest attached the wrong phone number to the phone. Meaning, they THOUGHT the OP’s father had number YYY-YYY-ZZZZ but in actuality the number given was YYY-YYY-ZZZA. So, he could dial out, but no-one could dial in because they had the wrong number.