The MaineCare rides program, beset with problems that resulted in thousands of missed medical appointments over the past year, will face a key test next week when the service will transition from a troubled Connecticut broker to other agencies.

The state is ending its relationship with Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which had been working under a one-year, $28.3 million contract serving most of the state, excluding the Bangor and York County regions. State officials cited the company’s poor performance when they chose not to renew its contracts for 2014-15.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions was permitted to bid on future service, but the state rejected its bids. It instead chose Atlanta-based LogistiCare and two Maine nonprofit agencies to arrange rides for MaineCare patients to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, counseling, camps for the mentally disabled and other services. The program serves 45,000 low-income Mainers.

“I’m very happy that CTS is leaving,” said Maureen Wood, of Gorham, a MaineCare rides client who uses the service about a dozen times a month to get to physical therapy and counseling appointments. “I don’t see how anyone can do much worse.”

Even so, Wood said she will remain cautious until she sees improvements.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said he hopes the transition goes well, but based on the numerous problems experienced over the past year, he’s not confident in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The department and the ride brokers “should expect a lot of intense scrutiny over the next few months,” Gattine said.

The state had switched from a patchwork system of local nonprofits that arranged rides to a regional broker system to comply with federal guidelines designed to combat fraud and abuse of the system.

John Martins, DHHS spokesman, wrote in an email response to questions that “we have taken some additional steps to ensure the smoothest possible transition.”

LogistiCare has provided service in York County for the past year. The company will now serve the Portland area and four other regions, including York County. Vice President Robert Harrison said the company has been working diligently to make a seamless transition and improve service.

“I think we’re ready,” Harrison said. “Our job is to get you to summer camp and pick you up from dialysis on time.”

LogistiCare is opening a South Portland call center, hiring 50 additional employees and purchasing 35 vehicles to make sure that rides will not be missed, he said. Various tests are being run to make sure that computer systems and software are working properly. He said the company also prepared for the Aug. 1 hand-off by building a volunteer driver network, relying less on taxis.

The driver and vehicle network was not where it needed to be last year, he said, when the company underestimated the demand for rides.

LogistiCare had problems with missed rides when service began last summer, but improved by the fall, according to state officials. Meanwhile, Coordinated Transportation Solutions continued to struggle, with many Mainers complaining about continued missed rides.

“They were in over their heads,” Harrison said of the Connecticut company.

LogistiCare will receive about $28 million from the state for 2014-15. Nonprofit agency Penquis Community Action Program is contracted to serve Bangor and Augusta for about $13.5 million. Another nonprofit, Waldo Community Action Partners, earned a $3.8 million contract.

Michael Hallundbaek, director of Waldo’s rides brokerage, said the nonprofit wasn’t ready last year to submit a bid, but this year believed it could improve service over Coordinated Transportation Solutions. Waldo has hired 17 employees to broker rides.

“It’s a bold and audacious endeavor we’re stepping into,” Hallundbaek said. “It’s a new day.”

Martins wrote that the department did checks on computer systems to make sure they were working properly and transferring the ride requests from the broker to transportation providers. The department also examined each ride broker’s driver and vehicle capacity to be sure that they could meet the demand.

In addition, the brokers’ call centers have been “ramped up” so that MaineCare patients will not be waiting on hold while ordering a ride, he said. Last year, many complained about not being able to get through or waiting on hold for hours.

Martins said that Coordinated Transportation Solutions has been helpful during the transition despite losing the contract.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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