TRENTON — As the Christie administration reviews bids from companies vying for a multi-million-dollar contract to coordinate transportation services for Medicaid clients, a mental health advocacy group has released a survey that says the current vendor is “unreliable” – showing up late or not at all.
LogistiCare of Atlanta has held the contract since 2009, and is paid $165 million a year to provide 130,000 Medicaid clients more than 5 million rides to and from medical appointments, according to Department of Human Services spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie. The riders are all low-income people, including some who also have physical and mental disabilities and addictions.
Based on the responses of 311 Medicaid recipients who have used LogistiCare’s services within the last six months, 53 percent said they had missed important medical or mental health appointments because the drivers had arrived too late or not at all, according to the survey by the Mental Health Association of New Jersey.
Nearly a third of the respondents said they felt “safety was not a priority” because drivers talked on their cell phones and texted while on the road. Seat belts also were broken or missing. And one-third of the people in the survey reported the drivers and other employees did not treat them in an “appropriate and respectful manner” by using profane or sexually inappropriate language.
“More than a third had filed, or tried to file, a complaint, and 52 percent of them received no response or saw no change at all,” the survey said. “Nearly half of those surveyed were not at all or only slightly satisfied with LogistiCare services, overall.”
The chairwoman of the Assembly Human Services Committee said she found the survey results so troubling that she introduced a bill that would impose new training requirements and performance standards for the company that wins the next state contract.
The committee approved Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle’s bill (A3616) by a 6-0 vote Thursday.
Lori Bonderowitz, general manager for LogistiCare New Jersey, said she had not seen the association’s survey. But she pointed to another survey – this one released in 2015 involving 451 people enrolled in NJ FamilyCare, an alternate name for the state’s Medicaid program. These Logisticare clients gave drivers high marks for safety and courteousness, (97 percent and 99 percent, respectively.)
The FamilyCare survey also questioned 385 clients whose rides had been cancelled. Some 44 percent in the survey said the driver never showed up, while 56 percent said they had called off the trip themselves.
The Mental Health Association’s study “has yet to be published so we can’t comment on potential findings. However, we’re eager to review it and will take immediate action to correct any issue or practice that falls short of the quality metrics mandated by our contract,” Bonderowitz said. “A sampling of only 300 members. . .does not reflect the reality of a system that over seven years has increased healthcare access while mitigating costs.”
The Medicaid program, which grew under the Affordable Care Act, serves more than 1.7 million people in New Jersey.
Under the state contract, LogistiCare does not provide the actual rides for Medicaid patients going to doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, dialysis and other planned trips; rather, it orchestrates them through private transportation companies.
The state has penalized LogistiCare for sub-standard performance related to clients’ missing appointments, Brossoie said. From April 2015 through March 2016, the state withheld $288,000, she said. The state also withheld $330,000 for similar infractions in 2013-14, she said.
The penalties built into the contract do not appear to be working, said Carolyn Beauchamp, the mental health association’ executive director.
“These are people who can’t get to the doctor, and then you blame them for not taking their medication,” said Beauchamp, who called the access to treatment “the lynchpin” of many clients’ well-being.
“At least one quarter of people in the survey said they simply stopped using LogistiCare because they could not get where they need to go,” she told the committee.
While the state Treasury Department continues to review the bids solicited for the new contract, Beauchamp told the Assembly committee she hoped the survey and the legislation will draw attention to the ongoing problems.
As the manager of Moving Forward Community Wellness Center, a self-help program in Camden for people with mental illness, Elena Kravitz testified she has seen “people standing out in the cold for hours at a time waiting for a pickup.”
“Every step we take is a battle,” Kravitz said.