October 23, 2013

MaineCare rides contractor understated complaint numbers

But the company says it was not being deceptive when it reported a small fraction of the 3,662 calls in August for erratic service.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A contractor that the state hired to arrange rides to medical appointments for MaineCare patients dramatically underreported the number of complaints it got in its first month on the job, which made it appear that the company was meeting the state’s job performance standards.

click image to enlarge

Joe St. Pierre, 33, of Pittston, says he has missed almost all of his medical appointments since August because of a poor job by Coordinated Transportation Solutions in arranging rides.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Mainecare rides complaints since Aug. 1

 The contractors arranging rides for MaineCare patients to non-emergency medical appointments are required every month to submit a log of complaints filed.

 • Coordinated Transportation Solutions (most of Maine): 160 official complaints; 3,662 calls to complaint line.

 • LogistiCare (York County region): 103 official complaints; 162 calls to complaint line.

 • Penquis (Bangor region): Three official complaints; 57 calls to complaint line.

 Source: Maine Department of Health and Human Services

Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut gave the Maine Department of Health and Human Services a log book detailing 160 complaints in August. In reality, 3,662 calls poured into the company’s “complaint line” during the month, the DHHS said.

The Portland Press Herald obtained the figures from the state under a Freedom of Access Act request.

John Martins, spokesman for the DHHS, said Tuesday that the actual number of complaints exceeded standards outlined in the state’s one-year, $28.3 million contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions.

A key critic said the chasm between the contractor’s written report and the actual complaint numbers reveals flaws in the system.

“This is like the fox counting how many hens there are in the hen house,” said state Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

But David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, said the company was overwhelmed in August, and not deliberately trying to deceive the state.

White apologized, saying his staff was beset with a myriad of problems when the company launched its service on Aug. 1, and failed to keep up with the task of logging all complaints. He said the company’s performance has since improved.

“We were trying to get rides to people,” White said. “We were not capable of documenting all the complaints. We are by no means saying that there were only 160 complaints in August.”

The other two contractors, Atlanta-based LogistiCare and Penquis, in the Bangor area, did not have the level of discrepancies in their complaint numbers that Coordinated Transportation Solutions had, according to state records.

On Aug. 1, the DHHS switched from a decentralized transportation program operated by local nonprofit agencies to a regional system run by ride brokers, to meet federal incentives designed to protect against abuse of the Medicaid rides system.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions won its taxpayer-funded contract to arrange rides in most of the state. LogistiCare won a $5.1 million contract for the York County region. Penquis was hired to cover the Bangor region.

Since the contractors took over, thousands of patients have missed rides to various medical appointments, and numerous stories have surfaced of elderly patients being left at the curb or people missing needed treatments.

DHHS records show that calls to Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ complaint line decreased from 3,662 in August to 1,299 in September. The log of complaints that the contractor submitted to the DHHS for September is not yet publicly available.

Martins, the department’s spokesman, said the state noticed the discrepancy between the log filed by the contractor and calls on the complaint line, and demanded reporting changes. He said the DHHS asked the contractors to provide weekly counts of complaint line calls.

Martins said the two numbers – complaint line calls and written logs of complaints – will never match exactly because of dropped calls and instances in which one person complains numerous times about the same event, but they should be closer together than what Coordinated Transportation Solutions submitted for August.

“It needs to be in the general ballpark,” he said, and the state expects the numbers to better reflect reality in subsequent reports.

State officials are using calls to the complaint lines to determine whether the brokers are meeting the performance standards in their contracts, Martins said.

However, the contracts spell out that the written logs – not calls to the complaint lines – determine whether the companies meet the standards. That means Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ logbook count of 160 complaints shows that the company complied with its contract.

(Continued on page 2)

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