December 4, 2013

Waterville, Augusta religious leaders plead for ride help

Continuing problems with MaineCare ride services prompt meeting with state DHHS officials.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Central Maine religious leaders met with state officials Wednesday to deliver stories from parishioners about missed MaineCare rides and petitions demanding an immediate fix to the ride system’s problems.

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ON THE MOVE: Religious and union leaders from Kennebec County emerge Wednesday from a meeting with Stefanie Nadeau, of MaineCare Services, in Augusta to talk about the plight of their parishioners and members who have had trouble getting rides to their medical appointments.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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David Anderman, senior minister at First Congregational Church in Waterville, said they told MaineCare officials that the state should cancel its contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions for arranging patients’ rides to medical and other appointments.

“The current situation is not satisfactory, there’s been chance for improvement, and it hasn’t gotten to where it needs to be, and somebody else needs to be there who does the job,” Anderman said.

Thousands of MaineCare patients have missed rides to medical appointments or been unable to arrange rides since CTS took charge of the system for most of the state on Aug. 1. The Department of Health and Human Services gave the Connecticut-based company a Dec. 1 deadline to submit a corrective action plan and improve its performance, but the department has not made a decision about continuing the one-year $28.3 million contract.

Legislative Democrats on Wednesday demanded that DHHS release its plan for fixing the rides system.

“It’s been four days since the deadline for the brokers to get their act together,” Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said in a news release from the House Democratic Office. “Have they made improvements or do we need to cancel the contracts? Is it time for a new system? We don’t know because the administration hasn’t shared their plan.”

DHHS spokesman John Martins said the department is reviewing the most recent performance data.

“We certainly are taking all elements of information into consideration as we look at the performance of the transportation brokers” and try to reach a decision, Martins said.

Anderman and several other religious leaders met privately Wednesday morning with Director of MaineCare Services Stefanie Nadeau, Director of Operations for the Office of MaineCare Services Roger Bondeson and Brian Sullivan, manager of the non-emergency transportation program.

The religious leaders are representatives of the Kennebec Valley Organization, a group of 11 congregations and unions in and around Augusta, Waterville and Skowhegan. They delivered more than 500 petitions, most signed by parishioners, asking DHHS to fix the transportation problems immediately by holding CTS to its contract or finding another entity to coordinate rides.

Before Aug. 1, local nonprofit organizations coordinated and provided about 45,000 people with non-emergency transportation to appointments with doctors, therapists and other health care providers.

Nancee Campbell, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister from Augusta, said one concern expressed by DHHS staff members was having something in place if the CTS contract is canceled.

“They certainly did admit that it was a fiasco on Aug. 1, when they abruptly stopped the old system and tried to start the new,” Campbell said. “A fiasco.”

“They don’t want to have another transition like that,” Anderman said.

Campbell is a MaineCare patient who said she has missed several rides in the past four months, though there was some improvement in November.

Both Anderman and Campbell said they were glad they could talk face-to-face with DHHS staffers, who expressed concern and disappointment with the state of the rides system.

“It’s not like they don’t care,” Anderman said. “They do; they care very deeply. But we’re at different places. We want the contract ended tomorrow, and they’re not ready to say yes to that yet, which means we have more work to do.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645smcmillan@centralmaine.comTwitter: @s_e_mcmillan
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