Mounting complaints about a statewide medical transportation company has led to a call by 51 legislators and a coalition of senior and mobility groups for a legislative audit. The complaints say LogistiCare left vulnerable adults and children stranded and scared.
The Department of Health says In December, LogistiCare reports it provided almost 180,000 medical rides. The company says there were 1,585 complaints, about 1 percent of the riders.
Missed medical appointments. Four-hour rides that turned into 14-hour marathons. Even the case of the eight-year-old asthmatic girl being transported by a LogistiCare driver. The girl wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom unless her mom paid him $35. “Her mom was frantic. She didn’t know what to do.”
Bay Area Rural Transit Mobility Manager Michelle Lee says that case only got worse: “The daughter had to go to the bathroom and the driver said ‘no, no, no, we can’t stop unless you pay me.’ So the mom had to give $35 to that driver to pull over at a gas station so the daughter could go bathroom.”
While he waited for the asthma patient, the driver smoked a cigarette in his car.
And then Lee says there’s the case of the Ashland County paraplegic diabetic woman stranded at a Duluth hospital after a dialysis appointment. She was dropped off by LogistiCare, but not picked up, “She called for her ride back and she was told that she did not have a ride. She had called three times.”
Lee says she's filed several complaints and has yet to hear back from LogistiCare.
State Representative Janet Bewley of Ashland says she’s heard many horror stories since LogistiCare began operating in Wisconsin 18 months ago. “I can handle tricky. I can handle transition. What I can’t handle are people in rural areas not getting what they deserve, and unfortunately that’s what happened with LogistiCare. When all of those things piled up and LogistiCare faced multiple complaints, LogistiCare pulled out. We want to break this contract.”
But this isn’t a problem just in far northern Wisconsin. Greater Wisconsin Aging Resources Transportation Specialist Carrie Porter works with every county except Dane and Milwaukee. She’s gotten many complaints and says a legislative audit would make LogistiCare accountable. “Calling for an audit is really important. Having that done ensures that it’s working and that our tax dollars are being spent appropriately.”
LogistiCare—a for-profit company based in Atlanta—is paid $38 million a year to provide services for medical transportation. They notified the state they are terminating their contract February 17.
LogistiCare Senior Vice-President of Operations Chuck DeZearn says they may re-apply for the contract, so he declined comment except to say they do investigate complaints on a case-by-case basis.
State Health Department Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades says although she’s not against an audit, she doesn’t see the point since LogistiCare is terminating its contract.
She says changes in criteria for LogistiCare’s eventual successor will address some of the trouble, “We have penalties and established liquidated damages for issues like failure to provide transportation, arriving late, using inappropriate vehicles.”
But Rhoades says overall, using one company to run a statewide program has worked. “You know, anytime you do a statewide program there are going to be glitches. There are going to be bumps. When we rolled out in the Milwaukee area which provided more than 5,000 rides a day, we had a complaint rate of .05 percent. Are those the ones we hear about? Unfortunately, yes.”
The letter from the 51 legislators says complaints are only escalating, and that under the new state proposal, LogistiCare could re-apply and be a candidate to replace itself, except with more pay from the state.
Meanwhile, the letter signed by the legislators to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee was sent January 2. So far, no reply.