September 15, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Time to tell ride service to take a hike

Here's a question for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that sounds a lot like the question being asked by countless MaineCare recipients who need a ride to and from their medical appointments:

What the hell's taking you so long?

If Maine's new $28.3 million contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions -- a misnomer if ever there was one -- was followed to the letter, the new "broker" for most of the state's Medicaid-funded transportation services would have been sent packing by now.

The contract, which state officials claim was forced upon them by the federal government (except it wasn't), allows for complaints from no more than 1 percent of the people who rely on Coordinated Transportation Solutions -- henceforth known as "Uncoordinated" -- for health care transportation.

Instead, since the company took over most of the MaineCare transportation program on Aug. 1, the wheels have come off: So many people have either called to complain (or given up altogether) that the state and Uncoordinated can't even provide an accurate number.

But that's not the half of it.

We have the now infamous phone call placed to Uncoordinated last week by state Rep. Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford, during a legislative committee meeting on the unfolding crisis.

"I'm sorry for any inconvenience," said the recorded woman's voice for all the Health and Human Services Committee to hear on Peterson's speaker phone. "Goodbye."

We have Richard Staples, a Waterville psychologist who met with a patient recently after six previous appointments fell through (you guessed it -- ride problems).

While his patient fretted about making it home, Staples called Uncoordinated's "Where's My Ride" line on his office phone. After 10 minutes on hold, he grabbed his cellphone and got through to Uncoordinated's complaint line, through which he eventually managed to see his patient off in a taxi.

But Staples, curious to see how long it would take Uncoordinated to answer his initial call, kept his office phone connected to "Where's My Ride." Twenty-one hours later, with the same maddening message still playing on the other end, he finally hung up.

Which brings us back to our question: Why, after six weeks of stunning incompetence, has the Department of Health and Human Services not invoked its right to give Uncoordinated the heave-ho?

This, after all, is not some run-of-the-mill state contract where a vendor's failure to deliver on, say, copy machine maintenance has bureaucrats kicking and screaming at the office Xerox.

This is about people -- you know, the ones Gov. Paul LePage promised three long years ago he was going to put before politics. And not just any people, mind you, but the ones who have now gone from being thrown under the bus to wondering if the bus will even arrive.

And what says DHHS about this self-inflicted disaster?

"We are evaluating all aspects of (Uncoordinated's) performance," DHHS spokesman John Martins told Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor on Thursday.

There's plenty to evaluate, such as Uncoordinated President David White's assurance to the Health and Human Services Committee last week that the average hold time for a caller seeking a ride has dropped from 23 minutes to two minutes.

And this is something to cheer about? What ever happened to dialing a number, for which we taxpayers are shelling out $28 .3 million annually, and hearing a live person say, "How can I help you?" on the first or second ring?

Then there's White's explanation for the "I'm sorry for any inconvenience. Goodbye" message that Rep. Peterson actually listened to a dozen times during Wednesday's hearing before he finally decided to share it with his fellow lawmakers.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)