An Aroostook County man who relies on MaineCare for transportation to his medical appointments suffered a burst gallbladder and was hospitalized for three days in August after a transportation broker failed to arrange the ride he needed for a surgical procedure.
Elderly residents elsewhere in Maine were left standing at the curb, and cancer patients missed their treatments.
Those were among the 266 complaints reported to the Department of Health and Human Services for the month of August by the transportation brokers at the heart of Maine’s troubled program to provide non-emergency medical transportation for low-income residents.
But the written log, obtained by the Portland Press Herald under the Freedom of Access Act, falls far below the number of people who complained, DHHS officials said Monday.
The officials said they will soon offer a more detailed explanation of the discrepancy between the 266 complaints reported by the brokers and the thousands of calls received on complaint lines to the companies and the DHHS.
All but three of the complaints were lodged against the two out-of-state contractors that Maine hired to manage the $40 million-a-year service for about 45,000 Mainers. Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions has six contracts covering most of the state, and Atlanta-based LogistiCare has a single contract for the York County region.
The three other complaints were against the only local company that won a broker contract, Penquis in the Bangor region.
The program has been under fire since Aug. 1, when the state switched from a decentralized system of local nonprofits arranging and delivering rides to a system in which brokers coordinate the rides in eight regions, often using the local nonprofits to provide the rides.
Maine revamped its system to comply with new federal Medicaid rules for transparency and accountability, to reduce potential abuse. Critics have said the state could have devised a system – like Vermont’s – that met Medicaid rules but maintained the system that relied on local transportation agencies.
The new system has been beset with logistical problems, and thousands of patients have missed rides to doctor’s offices, physical therapy, mental health counseling and other needed appointments.
The 266 reported complaints are far fewer than the thousands of people who have complained, state and company officials said, because of discrepancies in the way the complaints were counted.
John Martins, spokesman for the DHHS, said the gap centers on the thousands of people calling complaint lines vs. the official, written complaints the brokers submitted to the state. The contractors are required to provide the state with monthly reports on a number of issues, including complaint data.
The reasons for the discrepancies will be explained more this week, state officials said.
David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, said he apologizes for the difficult start in August but expects there are now many more satisfied customers. For instance, people are now getting through to the company’s call center in an average of 22 seconds, White said, while previously some couldn’t get through at all because the lines were overwhelmed.
“We’re feeling like we’re making significant progress,” he said. “August was a very bad month, and we regret that very much.”
But for Cynthia Dow of Augusta, who has complained numerous times about Coordinated Transportation Solutions, the system hasn’t improved.
Dow, who has severe back problems and can barely walk, said filing a complaint wasted many hours of her time. She took meticulous notes and filed many complaints, and also griped directly to the state. But she said that for August and September, her rides often failed to show or were late.
Dow said the service’s reliability improved recently, but only after she figured out a way to mostly circumvent Coordinated Transportation Solutions. She now contacts the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which provides the rides, and copies the information to the contractor.
“I couldn’t keep calling and complaining. It was taking up too much of my day,” Dow said.
Dow said she believes that most people would have given up trying to get rides from Coordinated Transportation Solutions, especially MaineCare recipients, some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Each complaint released by the DHHS includes a narrative of what happened.
The man whose gallbladder burst said he was hospitalized for three days because he missed his ride. Other people complained about missed rides to crucial appointments such as radiation treatments.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: