AUGUSTA, Maine — After taking their first look at a long-awaited corrective action plan for a foundering MaineCare non-emergency rides program on Thursday, Democrats who lead key legislative committees still label the program a “disaster.”
Four days past a Dec. 1 deadline for improvements to the program, which has been plagued with problems since it started in August, the Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that it’s still evaluating whether the contractor involved is making adequate improvements.
The $40 million non-emergency rides program, which was contracted to third-party brokers in August, has been under intense scrutiny since it started because of a slew of problems, including thousands of missed rides to doctor’s appointments and therapy. The program was previously run by numerous small nonprofit organizations across Maine but has now been handed over to three transportation firms.
Lawmakers said they got their first look on Thursday at a lengthy corrective action plan, which many of them have been requesting for weeks in advance of a DHHS-imposed Dec. 1 deadline for improvements
According to DHHS emails forwarded to the Bangor Daily News by Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who is co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, the plan was supposed to be distributed to lawmakers during the week of Nov. 18. Craven said she suspects that part of the delay stems from what she believes is Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration’s efforts to preserve the contracts that are in place.
“There was no Plan B, which led me to think that they had no intention of withdrawing the contract,” said Craven. “We were told things had to be fixed by Dec. 1.”
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a written statement that Lewiston-based Consolidated Transportation Systems, which holds a $28.3 million contract to administer the rides program throughout most of the state, has submitted data to DHHS related to its progress on fixing the program and that the department is analyzing that data.
“We must evaluate every element associated with the non-emergency transportation program,” said Mayhew. “That includes the federal mandate that we do not return to the previous way of doing business, to the performance of the broker and the potential ramifications of moving in a different direction. This complex issue cannot be oversimplified, and while we are making progress in our review, we will not rush to a decision of this magnitude.”
DHHS spokesman John Martins said Thursday that there is no timeline for the department to make a decision about the CTS contract’s future.
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee with Craven, said he received the corrective action plan from CTS on Thursday afternoon and hadn’t had time to fully evaluate it. Farnsworth said there is little the Legislature can do in the short term because the rides program is subject to the terms of a contract signed by the executive branch.
“Short of passing a law, which wouldn’t occur until the next half of the session, we’re somewhat limited in terms of what we can actually do,” he said. “The ride brokers have an obligation to achieve certain performance criteria. That should have been laid out in the contract, and I’m not sure why the department has been so relaxed about enforcing it. If this were a private business and something like this had happened, someone would have gotten fired.”
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she met Thursday morning with CTS President David White and workers at a medical facility in Lewiston called Westside Neuro Rehabilitation Services. She said staff at the rehab center told her and White that they have been forced to give patients rides home in their personal vehicles, in some cases as far away as Skowhegan.
Rotundo said another woman from Lewiston told her Thursday that on Wednesday, she missed a fourth consecutive appointment in Portland to have a patch of skin cancer removed because her ride didn’t show up.
“It’s been a disaster trying to get this program taken care of,” said Rotundo. “This is not acceptable. I told Mr. White that while the numbers might have improved, it’s still not working. It’s gotten a little better, but there are too many people who are still being left stranded.”