Thursday, December 5, 2013
By JESSE SCARDINA Morning Sentinel
WATERVILLE – Finishing his last appointment of the day, Richard Staples noticed that his patient was worried about getting home.
Staples, 63, who has been a behavioral health psychologist for more than 35 years, was meeting with the patient for the first time in six tries. The patient said he had had repeated difficulties getting a ride to the office in the last six weeks.
From his office phone, Staples called Coordinated Transportation Solutions, a nonprofit company that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services hired to broker rides for MaineCare patients, to find out whether his patient had a ride home.
Staples called the "Where's My Ride" line and proceeded to wait.
After 10 minutes on hold, he called on his cellphone and got through to the complaint line. A representative assured him that a taxi was en route, and a couple of minutes later, his patient was taken home.
Then, instead of disconnecting the call that was on hold, Staples decided to keep his office phone on the line with the "Where's My Ride" line, expecting that someone would answer the phone within an hour or two.
He eventually disconnected the call Thursday afternoon – 21 hours later – with the same hold message playing on a loop.
"I was going to see how long until they picked up," Staples said Thursday. "I just think it's interesting that the very afternoon I get put on hold, the president of CTS says in a hearing with legislators that they have the hold time down from an average 23 minutes to two minutes."
Company President David White also told the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday that the number of complaints has been cut in half and the system that started Aug. 1 is improving.
Coordinated Transportation Solutions has a $28.3 million contract with the state to arrange rides for MaineCare recipients statewide, except in the York County and Bangor regions.
Staples is also treasurer of the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which coordinated rides in central Maine before the state hired the contractor.
His office has been flooded with complaints about MaineCare's new transportation service. And Staples has had problems with missed appointments, uncertainty about patients' rides home and a loss of revenue. Since Aug. 1, he has lost more than $1,000 from missed meetings, more than 10 patients have failed to show up for appointments, and patients have succeeded just five times in making appointments with Coordinated Transportation Solutions.
"If it can happen to me, how many other people is it happening to?" he said. "How long would that call (have) stayed on hold?"
Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at: