I-TEAM: Disabled patients left stranded, waiting for rides to the doctor

Company with taxpayer-funded state contract vows to investigate complaints

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The I-TEAM has uncovered more than 1,000 complaints filed over a two-year period involving a company contracted by the state of Florida to provide rides, at taxpayer expense, to patients served by Medicaid. Two patients came forward to News4Jax to describe their experiences, which include being left out on a sidewalk overnight, and not being picked up for doctor’s appointments.

Kathryn Grace and Brandon Jones, both of Jacksonville, are among those who rely on LogistiCare to help them get around for medical treatment. They say the company isn’t prioritizing their medical needs or safety. LogistiCare has denied receiving either of their complaints, although the company is now promising an investigation.

Jones, 32, was diagnosed at age 28 with multiple sclerosis. A glimpse of his YouTube channel paints a picture of Jones' life before his diagnosis: he was an active young man working to be a personal trainer before a disease robbed him of his own physical freedom. 

"My muscles are deteriorating faster than an average person that don’t got multiple sclerosis," Jones explains.

But Jones hasn’t been to critical physical therapy appointments for months, because he can’t rely on the company paid to drive him there.

"When they don’t show up, it’s so stressful, it’s so frustrating that it really takes a toll on my body," Jones said. "I got to stay positive, you know, so I just told everybody at the rehab you know, when LogistiCare get their act together I’ll give ya’ll a call back. I haven’t been since November."

Brandon Jones

The I-TEAM was first contacted by a separate medical practice, the orthodontist’s office where Jones is a patient, because he’d missed more than a dozen appointments to adjust his braces in 2017, because LogistiCare's transportation providers weren't picking him up. Those missed appointments also left Jones in pain.

"So, what I learned is, if I get sugar-free gum, I can like, coat the wires so they don’t be poking me," Jones said.

That orthodontist’s office told LogistiCare they personally witnessed "deplorable" behavior on behalf of the company's drivers. In a complaint sent directly to LogistiCare, one staffer wrote, "the level of unprofessionalism I have witnessed with LogistiCare is beyond belief and no one should have to endure that behavior."

The office employee also recalled witnessing Jones not feeling well, after he said a driver hadn’t strapped him in, leaving him rolling around in the back of a van. She also saw Jones left at a busy intersection across the street from the office, expected to wheel his way across traffic alone, a task difficult for someone with MS who has lost motor function.

"Y’all need to be aware of what y’all are paying for, you know, who you are hiring," said Jones. "I’m pretty sure ya’ll don’t know your employees are doing this down here."

Jones’ complaints are familiar to Arlington grandmother Kathryn Grace, who also struggles with LogistiCare. WJCT-89.9FM news first told her story last year.

"Years ago, you thought it was pretty bad if you had to wait over an hour to get picked up," Grace said.  "Now you think it’s marvelous if you don’t have two wait more than two hours. And twice I’ve been left overnight."

Kathryn Grace

News4Jax asked Grace how that makes her feel. To which she replied: "Very, very tired. And angry."

Both Grace and Jones are wheelchair-dependent. Their families can’t afford a wheelchair van, which the I-TEAM found can cost $10,000-20,000 to modify. So, they rely on transportation services from LogistiCare. Fifteen separate Medicaid plan providers in Florida all have contracts with the company to provide the services. In turn, LogistiCare contracts with 236 transportation providers, meaning the company essentially acts as a hub, in a complex system with many independent variables.

The I-TEAM found that in 2016, the state of Florida received 446 complaints against LogistiCare. The following year, 560 complaints were received. In Florida, 4 million people rely on Medicaid, but the state wouldn’t specify how may regularly use LogistiCare.

When News4Jax first reached out to LogistiCare in January, the company promised an investigation, adding they apologize to Grace and Jones for the difficulties they encountered. LogistiCare said it was now monitoring trips taken by the two patients, and now is in the process of adding additional transportation providers.

Jones hopes the company will keep its promises.

"I mean, it’s a good service, it’s a good idea. Just stay true to your word," Jones said.  "I’m trying to stay positive but this company is making it hard."

Statement from Robert Perez, general manager of LogistiCare Florida operations:

We apologize to Ms. Grace and Mr. Jones for the difficulties they encountered. At LogistiCare, every member and ride matters, and we have initiated a thorough investigation to learn more about the issues they experienced.

While 99.8 percent of member trips were completed in Florida last year without complaint, we take every issue very seriously. To that end, when we find substantiated issues with a transportation provider, we implement appropriate corrective actions.

In Ms. Grace’s case, those corrective actions have resulted in no registered complaints related to her medical transportation in nearly five months. We are investigating a recent complaint related to her eligible monthly non-medical trip and we’re continuing to closely monitor her transportation. While no complaints have been filed with the company on behalf of Mr. Jones during that same timeframe, we’re now actively monitoring his trips as well.  

Also, we are following up individually with the transportation providers to ensure they’re adhering to member guidelines – especially as it pertains to properly securing members in vehicles. Any non-compliance with safety requirements is unacceptable and will be addressed swiftly.

In an effort to better accommodate members with conditions similar to those of Ms. Grace and Mr. Jones, we’re in the process of securing additional transportation providers that will meet their needs and expectations.

More importantly, if any member experiences issues with their transportation provider, we encourage them to contact us immediately. We offer multiple ways by which they can do that: directly on our WeCare form online, by calling the phone number assigned to their individual health plan or by emailing us at WeCare@logisticare.com. The sooner we are made aware of problems, the more effectively they can be resolved."

Statement from Shelisha Coleman, Agency for Health Care Administration press secretary

The Florida Medicaid program covers transportation to medically necessary and Medicaid-compensable services if transportation is otherwise not available to the recipient. Transportation services are categorized as “non-emergency” or “emergency” transportation services.

During 2013-2014 Florida Medicaid implemented the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care (SMMC) program. Under the legislative mandates of the SMMC program, most Medicaid recipients now receive their Medicaid services from managed care plans. The managed care plans with which the Agency contracts are responsible for providing Medicaid transportation services.  This includes transportation to Medicaid State Plan services not covered by the plan and to expanded benefits. Most of the Medicaid managed care plans have subcontracted with transportation vendors who are responsible for providing Medicaid transportation services. One of the subcontractors used by the managed care plans is Logisticare.

Please note that a small number of Medicaid recipients receive their services through the fee-for-service (FFS) program. For those recipients who receive their services through the FFS Medicaid program the Agency has contracted with two non-emergency transportation vendors. Those vendors are Logisticare and Medical Transportation Management Inc. (MTM).

The Agency created a centralized Complaint Operations Center as a way to streamline and better track and respond to all complaints and issues received related to all issues with Florida Medicaid, including transportation services.  Anyone encountering difficulties with receiving transportation is encouraged to inform the Agency immediately so the issue can be investigated and resolved in an expedited manner.

Please note that the Agency has actively encouraged all stakeholders to surface any potential issue, concern, or complaint regarding the program to the Complaint Operations Center. All complaints are entered as reported, regardless of whether they are found to be accurate or substantiated.

During calendar year 2016, the Agency identified 446 complaints which pertain to Logisticare (both fee-for-service and SMMC).  During calendar year 2017, the Agency identified 560 complaints which pertain to Logisticare (both fee-for-service and SMMC).  For 2017, there were nearly 4,000,000 active Medicaid enrollees each month. This resulted in a monthly average of approximately .01 complaints, per 1,000 Medicaid enrollees."

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