October 3, 2013

Maine on verge of canceling contract with rides-for-poor coordinator

DHHS says service is still inadequate and the company has until Dec. 1 to fix it

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The state is on the brink of canceling its contract with a company it hired for $28.3 million in taxpayer funds to arrange rides to medical appointments for thousands of MaineCare patients, according to a memo released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Sheena Patel, 27, is dropped off at her South Portland home by an RTP bus after her day at “Affinity,” an outpatient rehabilitation facility in Portland.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which has been the ride broker for six of eight transportation regions statewide since Aug. 1, has been put on the equivalent of probation for failing to provide adequate service, according to a memo dated Monday and signed by Stephanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare services in the DHHS.

The department is giving the company two more months to fix the problems, and some state lawmakers say that’s too much time.

The rides program for low-income Mainers has been in turmoil since the state switched from a system in which local nonprofits arranged and provided the rides, to a system in which regional brokers connect patients with the transportation providers. The DHHS said it made the change to comply with federal rules requiring more accountability and transparency.

In the program’s first two months, thousands of patients have missed rides to doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, counseling and other medical services.

Now, Coordinated Transportation Solutions must submit a “corrective action” report to the state by Monday and make “significant measurable” improvement by Dec. 1 or it could lose its contract, according to Nadeau. The state could also recover money set aside by the company in a performance bond, the memo says.

“CTS has failed in its service to MaineCare members by: failing to secure an adequate transportation network, failing to provide prompt and competent service at its call center. As a result, thousands of MaineCare members have missed, or been late, for appointments and, in some instances, gone without necessary medical services, among other things,” the memo says. “CTS’s performance failures also have a ripple effect throughout the state, causing caretakers to miss work and causing medical providers to lose revenue.”

Nadeau also wrote to the two other ride brokers the state has hired, LogistiCare for the York County region and Penquis Community Action for Bangor. She mentioned issues that need improvement, but the contractors were not put on probation or threatened with losing their contracts.

The service, required by the federal government, gives rides to MaineCare recipients who don’t have other access to transportation.

The DHHS has refused multiple requests by the Portland Press Herald to release the numbers of complaints that the contractors have received and reported to the state. But Nadeau’s memo says that, since Aug. 1, Coordinated Transportation Solutions “has received over 3,300 complaints from members, and this does not include the numerous complaints received separately by the department.”

The memo contrasts with the largely upbeat, official memo that the DHHS submitted Wednesday to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. In that memo, released by the office of Commissioner Mary Mayhew, the company was lauded for its performance in September, “demonstrating improvement in problem areas they saw in August.”

The weekly average of missed trips for patients covered by Coordinated Transportation Solutions declined from 824 in August to 394 in September, according to Mayhew’s memo. The contractor failed to provide rides for more than 4,000 patients through mid-September, out of about 160,000 trips scheduled, the memo says.

“We have made significant progress,” company President David White told the Press Herald on Wednesday. “It’s been a very significant improvement. We are in a very different place than we were in August.”

White noted that Nadeau’s memo says the average time that callers spend on hold has decreased from more than 7 minutes to about 3½ minutes.

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