PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawmakers lamented what they perceive to be a lack of progress on the part of the state’s medical transportation company on Thursday night, with one representative calling for the state to cancel the company’s $115 million contract.
Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, addressed her comments directly to Gov. Gina Raimondo: “It needs to stop, Madame Governor,” she said. “Please fix it. In fact, cancel the doggone contract.”
Medical Transportation Management, a St. Louis-based company, took over in January as the state’s contractor to provide rides for low-income and elderly Rhode Islanders to medical appointments.
At a House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday night, several lawmakers and sub-contracted drivers insisted problems persist, while MTM and the state said the service is getting better.
Complaints skyrocketed when MTM took over, with patients saying their rides never showed up, or stranded them at doctor’s offices for hours. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services received more than 1,100 complaints in January. That number was down to 325 in April, according to a spokesperson.
Still, the private transport company’s sub-contractors who do the actual driving in Rhode Island say the company’s platform is faulty, glitchy, and sends them to wrong addresses.
Kay Adesina, who owns Kaydolly Medical and Marketing Transporter in Providence, says on a recent day his daily manifest from MTM told him he had to pick up a patient with a Florida address, when the patient actually lives in Pawtucket. He called MTM to try and fix the problem, but when he got in the car to take the trip the platform’s GPS, used to track drivers and trip accuracy, still directed him to Florida.
“It is a disorganized company. It is a dysfunctional company,” Adesina said. “They need to unplug them. They need to go.”
Phil Stalboerger, the Vice President for Public Affairs for MTM, said issues with addresses or phone numbers come from the patients (referred to as ‘members’) and the state’s own records in its Medicaid or other benefits systems.
“The data that we are given from the state is what we are using,” Stalboerger said. “And so oftentimes if a member asks for a ride or a trip, we ask them their address. So we are going off of that data as well as the state data.”
Adesina said there are frequent technological problems such as his ride schedule being in Central Time on Thursday instead of Eastern Time. An MTM spokesperson told Eyewitness News it was a temporary computer glitch that only lasted a few hours.
Drivers complain that they don’t get paid for so-called “dead trips,” which occur when a driver shows up to a house and the patient isn’t there or doesn’t take the ride. Sometimes it means they canceled their doctor’s appointment; other times, it’s because they’ve moved away or even died.
EOHHS spokesperson David Levesque said there is a gap in between when a patient dies and when the information gets shared with MTM, because of Medicaid’s process in validating a death before rescinding a person’s membership. Once the death is processed in the system, it then gets sent to MTM.
Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown, said one of her constituents has a son who was trying to use MTM to get to 5 a.m. methadone clinic appointments.
“On May 1, the ride didn’t show,” Casimiro said. “On May 2, the ride didn’t show. On May 3, the ride didn’t show. On May 4, the mom called, she was on the phone with MTM for an hour and 45 minutes. On May 5, the ride did come, an hour late.”
She held up a folder which she said was filled with complaints from constituents.
“I have a 27-year-old son of a constituent who told me going back to drugs is easier than working with MTM,” Casimiro said.
“That’s horrible,” said Michelenet Urbeaz, MTM’s local ombudsman who was hired in February to advocate for members. She said complaints that aren’t resolved by the company’s “We Care” hotline are escalated to her, and she investigates further.
Rhode Island’s Medicaid Director Patrick Tigue said MTM is improving, and is expected to hit a list of milestones in a corrective action plan by June. The state fined the company $1 millon and is withholding 10% of its monthly payments until certain performance thresholds are met.
“We have seen incremental progress by MTM and I think that is a credit to the work that my team has done,” Tigue told the the committee. “However, I recognize the work is not done, and we are not going to let up until we’ve seen continual progress.”
Responding to the call to cancel the contract altogether, Tigue said: “I will not take any options off the table in terms of additional monetary sanctions, but also up to and including contract termination.”
Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, the chair of the Oversight Committee, said she was fed up with the situation.
“I am sick of these hearings,” she said. “You’re laughing all the way to the bank with our millions of dollars. And we have had it.”