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

(Continued from page 1)

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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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But Nadeau wrote that wait times still are too long, and that the contract requires an average of less than a minute.

Nadeau also wrote that the number of people who hang up in frustration should be 5 percent or less, while callers have been giving up on Coordinated Transportation Solutions 15 percent to 58 percent of the time.

Overall, the service has not improved enough, Nadeau’s memo says.

“While there has been some improvement over the last few weeks, information provided to the department demonstrates that CTS has not responded quickly enough to identified deficiencies, and has not provided sufficient resources to remedy the deficiencies,” Nadeau wrote.

Others criticized the contractor Wednesday.

Marylou Dyer, managing director for the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, said the data the DHHS is using will never “show what’s happening on the ground.” She described the two-month experience as a disaster and said any hint of improvement has “flat-lined.”

Dyer said the companies also are making it difficult for people to log complaints for missed or delayed rides. “You have to be very pushy to get an official complaint number with the broker,” she said. “It’s ludicrous.”

A memo signed by Paul Murphy, president of the Maine Transit Association, which represents the ride providers, casts doubt on the system adopted by the state, and suggests an overhaul.

“I would like to report that things are improving and that we have faith in the brokers and DHHS to make this system work. Unfortunately, I cannot,” Murphy wrote. “The number and the significance of the problems we are encountering lead us to question whether this system will ever work.”

State Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he was encouraged that the DHHS had indicated that “one ride missed was one too many.” But he said the Dec. 1 deadline to correct the problems seems “weak.”

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said in a phone interview that he wouldn’t give CTS another two months to fix problems, when many of the logistical issues should have been resolved by now.

“We should have given them two weeks, not two months. Now we’re going to give them another two months?” Farnsworth said.

Jack DeBeradinis, who heads the Portland-based Regional Transportation Program, a nonprofit that provides rides, said the system is cumbersome and hasn’t improved much since August. He said his agency often doesn’t receive its list of upcoming rides until the afternoon before the rides are needed, rather than a week in advance, which would allow for better planning.

And he said Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ computer software still doesn’t interface with the Regional Transportation Program’s software, bogging down the system.

“We have to work with this ponderous system,” he said. “Our riders have had 40 to 50 percent less efficient service compared to before Aug. 1.”

DeBeradinis said the state inserted a “middle man” that’s bogging down the system and he doesn’t believe it will ever be as efficient as it was.

Glen Herbert of South Portland said his 27-year-old daughter, Sheena Patel, who has Down syndrome, relies on the MaineCare rides program for transportation to a sheltered work environment, and he’s still leery of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, despite some improvements. He said he circumvents the contractor as much as possible.

“I’m not supposed to call (Regional Transportation Program) for a ride, but I’ve been calling RTP on the day of the ride to make sure that Sheena is getting her rides,” Herbert said. “We’re still not confident in CTS.”

The state is threatening to recover funds put up by Coordinated Transportation Solutions in a performance bond for failure to provide adequate service, although the amount available for the state to claim was not available Wednesday, and the company would not reveal the amount.

“Upon issuance of this notice, the department shall also put CTS’s bond holder on notice of its performance failures,” Nadeau’s memo says.

State House Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:jlawlor@pressherald.comTwitter: @joelawlorph
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