AUGUSTA — Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told lawmakers Thursday that progress is being made on MaineCare’s new rides program but much more must be done to improve service for low-income residents who need rides to doctor’s appointments, therapy and other medical services.

“We need to see substantial progress,” said Mayhew, in brief remarks before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “We need to see in a matter of weeks a significant turnaround.”

Two out-of-state contractors took over arranging rides on Aug. 1, and since then the state has been flooded with complaints by MaineCare patients who say they’re missing rides to doctor’s appointments. Previously, local nonprofits coordinated and provided rides with few problems, numerous MaineCare patients have told the Portland Press Herald.

The state has reported more than 2,000 complaints, although official numbers with a breakdown by region have not been released yet by the state.

While the Legislature has little role in what was a Maine Department of Health and Human Services initiative to comply with federal Medicaid requirements, state representatives and senators had been receiving an earful from constituents, and the committee has been monitoring the issue.

Mayhew said call wait times have been improving at Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut, the new ride broker for most of the state, excluding the Bangor and York County regions. The York County area is being served by Atlanta-based LogistiCare, while the Bangor region is the only part of the state that maintained a local nonprofit, Penquis, arranging rides.

Complaints have centered around Coordinated Transportation and LogistiCare, although LogistiCare company officials this week pointed to a number of improvements, including increased staffing and vehicles to help meet demand for rides. LogistiCare officials say patients calling their numbers have not endured lengthy waits to talk to an employee arranging a ride.

Coordinated Transportation and LogistiCare officials did not appear to be at the committee meeting. Coordinated Transportation landed a $28.3 million contract, while LogistiCare’s contract is for $5.1 million. Both operate on one-year contracts, although the state has wide latitude to cancel the contracts at any time.

Mayhew said Coordinated Transportation and LogistiCare officials know that if performance doesn’t improve, they’re in danger of having to pack up and leave.

“The threat of losing the contract is pretty significant,” said Mayhew, adding that the state is working daily with the companies on improving service.

Still, Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, and a committee chairwoman, said building financial punishments into the contract for not meeting standards would have been a good idea.

“If they know that somehow they’re going to suffer a loss, just like the people who haven’t been getting their rides,” Hill said, then that would give the contractors extra motivation to provide competent service.

The state has a number of performance standards in the contract that the companies must meet, including holding complaints to 1 percent or less of all calls.

Mayhew said she didn’t know when the complaint numbers, which were requested by the Press Herald, would be released to the public.

Coordinated Transportation and LogistiCare were required to file official complaint numbers with the state on Aug. 15. State officials are working with the companies to address discrepancies in the complaint numbers that were submitted to the state versus the state’s records of complaints, Mayhew has said. She said the state wants to release accurate data.

Legislators complimented Mayhew for attending the meeting, after Hill had criticized Gov. Paul LePage for DHHS officials’ absence from a committee meeting earlier this month. Mayhew said she and her staff had a conflict and couldn’t attend the meeting in mid-August.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she realizes DHHS has been working hard to solve the ride problems.

“It’s really been awful for the consumers,” Rotundo said.