Friday, December 13, 2013
BY JESSE SCARDINA Staff Writer
Staples, 63, and a behavioral health psychologist for more than 35 years, was meeting with a patient for the first time in six tries. The patient reported having repeated difficulties getting a ride to his appointment in the last six weeks.
From his office phone, Staples called Coordinated Transportation Solutions, or CTS, the nonprofit company contracted by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to broker rides for MaineCare patients, to see if his patient had a ride home.
Staples pressed the number for the "Where's My Ride" line and proceeded to wait on hold.
After 10 minutes, Staples called on his cellphone and got through to the complaint line, where a representative assured him that a taxi was en route, and a couple minutes later, his patient was taken home.
Instead of disconnecting the call on hold, though, Staples decided to keep his office phone on the line with CTS's "Where's My Ride" line, suspecting that someone would answer the phone within an hour or two.
He eventually disconnected the call Thursday afternoon -- 21 hours later -- while the same hold message played on a seemingly endless loop.
"I was going to see how long until they picked up," Staples said Thursday after leaving the phone on speaker through the night in his College Avenue office. "I just think it's interesting that the very afternoon I get put on hold, the president of CTS says in a hearing with legislators that they have the hold time down from an average 23 minutes to two minutes."
CTS President David White also testified Wednesday at the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee meeting that the number of complaints have been cut in half and that the system is improving. The company landed a $28.3 million contract with the state to arrange MaineCare rides for clients in most of the state, except the York County and Bangor regions.
Staples, who along with a psychology career spanning more than three decades in Maine, also is the treasurer of the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which previously had coordinated rides in central Maine. KVCAP is a nonprofit organization that has provided services to residents of Kennebec and Somerset counties for more than 40 years, including non-emergency medical transportation, home ownership assistance and heating assistance.
His office in Waterville has been flooded with complaints about MaineCare's transportation service. Missed appointments, uncertainty about rides home for patients and a loss of revenue are some of the problems Staples said he is dealing with.
Since Aug. 1, Staples said he has lost more than $1,000 from missed meetings, more than 10 patients have failed to show up for appointments, and patients have succeeded just five times in making appointments with CTS.
When reached for a comment, a representative from White's office said he wasn't available and referred to an Aug. 26 news release, which said that while CTS isn't satisfied with its results to date, it has seen improvement, including less hold time on phone calls and the hiring of more employees.
One question worries Staples the most: If he struggles to get through to CTS, how are patients who are relying on these rides able to communicate with the company?
"If it can happen to me, how many other people is it happening to?" he said. "How long would that call (have) stayed on hold?"
Jesse Scardina -- 861-9239