COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Ann Corcoran received a phone call in November 2021 that changed her life.
A man driving for the state contractor Medical Transportation Management, or MTM, veered across the double lines and crashed into an oncoming car on Route 117 in Coventry.
He was driving Corcoran’s 77-year-old mother, Lina Russo, home from a dialysis appointment. But police said her wheelchair wasn’t strapped in and she slammed into the back of the driver’s seat as a result.
“She had a broken femur, broken hip, broken back, broken arm and some type of gash on her head, which we found out later was because she hit the console,” Corcoran told Target 12.
Russo died from her injuries a week later at Rhode Island Hospital.
“I just thought for her last days I would be here with her in our house and get to say goodbyes the way we should have,” Corcoran said. “It was taken away.”
The deadly crash is one of a series of issues that have plagued the state contractor since its contract began in 2019. The company failed to tell the state about the incident until three days later, and it turned out the driver — Dauda Elegushi — wasn’t even supposed to be driving for the company.
Police said he had an open beer in the cupholder and he later pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in death, among other charges. His case is pending in the courts.
“You think they are in good hands because people involved are trained and know what they are doing,” Corcoran said. “I learned that was the furthest from the truth.”
Elegushi’s attorney declined to comment.
Despite the litany of issues, which have resulted in more than $1 million in fines since 2019, Rhode Island signed a new contract with MTM in July. The state put the contract out through a competitive bidding process, but MTM was one of only two companies to submit a proposal.
“Frankly, I was really surprised when MTM received a second bite at the apple with this contract because as we know the first time around — it wasn’t all that successful,” House Oversight Chairwoman Patricia Serpa told Target 12.
The West Warwick Democrat has been critical of MTM and its performance in recent years, and Serpa said she’s prepared to call oversight hearings next legislative session if the company keeps having problems under the new contract.
The state has budgeted to pay MTM nearly $130 million to over the next three years, although that cost could fluctuate based on the demand. The company provides non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) for patients who receive Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program.
State Medicaid Director Kristin Sousa declined to be interviewed on camera, but she said in a statement the new MTM contract, “has heightened the quality and safety guarantees, vendor performance transparency and financial oversight.”
“Rhode Islanders who depend on NEMT services should expect nothing less than safe, top-quality care each time they require transportation,” Sousa said.
Asked for specifics, Sousa’s office provided a list of new requirements, including additional training, annual reviews and a mandate to report all incidents involving an injury within six hours. The company must also standardize its credentialing process and review them routinely.
The state also argued MTM services appear to be improving recently based on complaint data. The data shows complaints against the company from January through July declined 27% to 606 compared to 830 during the same period last year. Meanwhile, overall rides increased 14% to 550,880 compared to about 485,000 a year earlier.
“We will maintain our vigilance over this data and provide oversight of MTM to ensure the continuation of this positive trend,” Sousa said.
MTM spokesperson Michele Lucas echoed the state, saying the new contract contains new quality and safety requirements. She said the company has worked with the state to ensure “full compliance with all requirements.”
“Our number one goal is to deliver Rhode Island residents to their medical appointments safely and on time,” Lucas said in a statement. “MTM performance metrics support our progress toward this goal as we continue to increase the volume of trips we perform year-over-year, while decreasing the number of complaints received.”
For Corcoran, however, she lambasted the state for renewing its contract with MTM. She said it’s taken her nearly two years to talk publicly about her mother’s death, in part because it’s created so much distress for the family.
But she wanted to speak out now because she’s concerned there isn’t enough transparency for families to know exactly who is driving their loved ones to and from appointments. And that — in her case — had detrimental consequences.
“His stupid actions destroyed a family and killed an innocent lady who didn’t deserve to die like this,” she said. “This was preventable — I don’t believe this was a true accident.”