Area residents using a free ride program for low-income Mainers continue to be frustrated by missed rides to medical and other appointments.
In Waterville, Carol Penney, 69, scheduled a ride for a Tuesday therapy appointment, but no one showed up to take her across town.
The same thing happened to Que Tolefree, 49, of Readfield, who relies on the transportation to take him and his child to several medical appointments per month.
Judith Mitchell, 64, of Winslow, is worried about an important checkup in Ellsworth later this month. She can see only shapes and shadows with one eye and is worried that she won’t have transportation.
The three are among hundreds who have complained to state officials and media outlets since MaineCare changed the non-emergency ride system on Aug. 1.
Under the new system, brokers are to arrange the rides while other agencies provide them. The previous system allowed the same agency to arrange and provide the transportation.
Mitchell has had 14 operations since 1990 on her eye, in hope of saving what little vision remains. She’s currently on a cornea transplant list.
“It’s been a long road. Without the transportation, I will not be able to continue this fight, and that’s not fair,” Mitchell said. “It’s the difference between me having an eye and not having an eye.”
Mitchell said she has been calling MaineCare Services and has waited on hold for up to two hours. She has tried the new brokers with the same result, sometimes up to three hours.
Mitchell has suffered from panuveitis since 1990 and is now able to see only shadows and some movements.
“I went to bed one night and was fine, and I woke up and it felt like someone stuck knives into my eyes,” she said from her living room couch in Winslow.
Mitchell is on a transplant list for a new cornea that would help her regain vision in her right eye after surgery in March.
“As soon as I have the rest of the surgery, my vision will increase tremendously,” Mitchell said.
Despite the optimism, Mitchell is worried about what will happen if she gets the call to have cornea transplant surgery in Boston.
“I’ve been down every avenue with this new system,” she said. “I depend on this transportation. These appointments have kept my eye going. It’s the only one I have.”
MaineCare Services contracted with Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut to coordinate the transportation for MaineCare patients statewide except for the Bangor region and York County.
The Kennebec Valley Community Action Program coordinated and provided transportation for patients in Somerset and Kennebec counties for more 40 years.
The confusion and frustration the change has caused MaineCare patients is substantial. Patients who are scheduling appointments aren’t receiving transportation and are worried that the problems will continue.
Penney, Tolefree and Mitchell all called CTS in advance to coordinate transportation for their appointment. All were told by CTS that a ride from KVCAP would be provided.
“I called CTS on the eighth and booked all my appointments. They never sent rides for me, and I’ve missed three different doctor appointments today,” Tolefree said Monday.
He is a MaineCare patient in Readfield and needs transportation for his son’s speech therapy appointments as well as his treatment for epilepsy and other health problems.
After appointments were missed because of rides not showing up, Tolefree said CTS blamed the issues on system problems.
“I called CTS, and they said it was a system issue between them and KVCAP,” he said. “I don’t know why they’re trying to manage this stuff in Maine from Connecticut.”
Penney had a therapist appointment for Tuesday, but no ride arrived to pick her up. She’s wondering how she’s going to get to a doctor’s appointment on Thursday in Waterville.
“I shouldn’t have to go through this. It’s taking a toll on me,” Penney said over the phone, struggling to hold back tears. “If the system isn’t broke, why are they fixing it? I depend on those rides. There was no need to do this.”
Lynne Richmond, 68, of Augusta, relies on MaineCare-funded transportation because she doesn’t have a vehicle.
On the last two Fridays, however, no one showed up to bring her to appointments with doctors. She finally decided to take a cab rather than risk rescheduling for a third time.
Richmond said the experiences left her frustrated and upset.
“It’s not like I can jump in a vehicle and go someplace, because I don’t have a car,” she said.
Richmond is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of people across Maine who have missed appointments in recent weeks following the switch to a new transportation system for MaineCare patients.
Richmond said she didn’t bother calling Coordinated Transportation Solutions, the Connecticut company hired to oversee the rides, explaining that it takes an hour to get someone on the phone. Instead, she called the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which usually provides her rides. Richmond said someone from the program told her that she wasn’t scheduled for a ride.
“We’ve been having problems since (CTS) took over,” Richmond said. “I never know when I’m going to be picked up to go to the Cohen Center or anything.”
“I’d like to have it work like it did before,” she added.
CTS couldn’t be reached for comment after numerous attempts.
Since the new system was implemented Aug. 1 for MaineCare patients who need transportation for non-emergency medical appointments, there has been little success resolving complaints and continued missteps that frustrate patients.
Problems coordinating the rides have arisen in part because of computer system problems between Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut, according to Jim Wood, KVCAP’s transportation director.
“We’re still working through data transfer system issues,” said Wood. “We did make progress over the weekend.”
Wood said that configuring CTS’s system with KVCAP’s has taken longer than expected, but that progress should continue.
“We’re assuming over the next few weeks things should get better. Our (information technology) guys have been working closely with theirs.”
Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut couldn’t be reached for comment.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239