Thursday, April 24, 2014
The state is reviewing discrepancies in the number of patient complaints reported by the two companies hired to run the MaineCare transportation system that broke down early this month, leaving thousands of low-income patients without rides to medical appointments.
Pamela Tardiff cries while telling of her frustrations with the new ride scheduling system Friday in Augusta. Tardiff uses an electric-powered wheelchair and has had trouble getting rides to doctor’s appointments.
Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
One of those companies, LogistiCare, which serves the more heavily populated York County region, told state officials that only 26 complaints came in to its "dedicated complaint line," according to an email sent by the state to the Press Herald on Aug. 13.
But the state estimates that people complained more than 2,000 times -- from Aug. 1 to Aug. 13 -- about missed rides to doctor's appointments and other problems following the overhaul of the system that brought in LogistiCare and another out-of-state contractor at the beginning of the month to coordinate rides for MaineCare recipients.
The Press Herald alone has fielded dozens of phone calls from people complaining about LogistiCare since Aug. 1, as well as a similar number of complaints regarding Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which covers most of the state.
In the Aug. 13 email, the state did not provide separate numbers for CTS.
Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew had the strongest words yet by a government official about the performance of the two out-of-state contractors in charge of coordinating rides for MaineCare patients.
"We have significant concerns. We need to see significant progress in a very short period of time -- weeks," Mayhew said in a telephone interview Friday.
While Mayhew declined to say what the consequences would be if the companies failed to improve their performance to satisfactory levels, the state has wide latitude to cancel the contracts at any time. When asked whether the state was considering canceling the companies' contracts, Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare Services, told the Press Herald last week, "It's too early to talk about how long we'll give them."
The $40 million transportation program serves about 45,000 Maine residents.
Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut landed a $28.3 million contract for six of eight regions in the state, including Portland, and Atlanta-based LogistiCare won a $5.1 million contract for the region that includes York County. Since then, many people have complained about not only missed rides, but being unable to get through busy phone lines to make appointments.
Many of the patients affected have serious illnesses or disabilities. Complaints include an Old Orchard Beach mother who said her 3-year-old son was dropped off at the wrong house, a Winslow woman who cannot secure transportation for therapy to preserve vision in one of her eyes, and a woman from Kennebunkport who has missed out on therapy intended to improve her brain's functioning.
Thursday was the deadline for LogistiCare and CTS to officially submit complaint data to the state, as required in the pair's one-year contracts. The state, when requested by the Press Herald, did not release the data by Friday afternoon.
When asked the reason for the delay, Mayhew acknowledged that figuring out issues such as why LogistiCare -- prior to the official deadline -- reported 26 complaints when thousands have come in statewide is an example of why the state is not yet releasing the data. She said the state wants to release accurate numbers.
"It is important that we have the time to analyze the data and be certain of the integrity of the data before it is finalized," Mayhew said. "There is a process we have to go through of data verification."
LogistiCare and CTS declined to comment.
When the controversy erupted in early August, LogistiCare claimed it had a "99.7 percent" success rate in brokering rides.
Previously, local nonprofit agencies coordinated and provided rides for MaineCare patients with few problems, many patients have said. A local agency, Penquis, still brokers and provides rides in the Bangor area.
Mayhew did not give the two contractors votes of confidence when asked whether she believed LogistiCare and CTS could fix the problems.
"Our focus is to evaluate whether these companies have the ability to address these concerns expeditiously," Mayhew said. "I have confidence that we will hold them accountable."
Members of the Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee criticized the revamped MaineCare non-emergency ride service last week, saying numerous missed rides to doctor's appointments and other medical services require immediate solutions.
"We're all getting calls, and they've been really heartbreaking calls," said Rep. Margaret Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chairwoman of the committee. "This is clearly a huge problem that needs to be fixed quickly."
Pamela Tardiff of Augusta is one of the unhappy customers. Tardiff said she's paralyzed and has missed two doctor's appointments that she says are needed to help evaluate her condition.
"I was on hold for three hours and 12 minutes," Tardiff said. "I can't even get through to make an appointment."
She said it's so bad, she's worried that when someone does finally show up, it will be with a car rather than a lift van that she needs for transportation.
"You can't take this (heavy) electric chair, fold it up and put it in the back seat," Tardiff said.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:
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