KIYC: LogistiCare medical transport frustrations

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A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds widespread dissatisfaction with LogistiCare, New Jersey’s $165 million-a-year Medicaid transportation provider, which flies in the face of the company’s official complaint rate of less than 1 percent. And a confidential audit, obtained by Kane In Your Corner, shows LogistiCare may have engaged in “systemic underreporting” of complaints in Connecticut. The investigation comes as LogistiCare’s New Jersey contract is up for renewal.

Jose Lopez, of Camden, dreads the days he has doctor’s appointments. “It makes me nervous,” he says in Spanish. “It puts me under stress. By the time I get to the appointment, my blood pressure is sky high.”

Lopez isn’t worried about getting bad news from his doctor, he’s simply worried about getting there and back. As a Medicaid recipient, he’s forced to depend on LogistiCare for transportation. But he and other Medicaid patients say their rides often fail to arrive, or come so late their appointments have to be canceled. Diane Thompson, a senior citizen, says she twice had to walk home almost 9 miles after she was left stranded at the doctor’s office.

They’re not alone. Last year, a survey by the Mental Health Association of New Jersey found 53 percent of LogistiCare clients missed appointments because of unreliable transportation. Thirty-six percent said they “filed or tried to file a complaint with LogistiCare.” And a 2016 audit by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found only 12 of 100 New Jersey cases reviewed met all state contract requirements.

Health advocates say this has been a problem for years. “We have called on behalf of tenants and the next time they call for a ride they experience the same problems,” says Marilyn Mock, of Fair Share Housing.

The official figures from the state could hardly be more different. Month after month, they show LogistiCare achieving complaint rates of less than 1 percent. Advocates question the accuracy of those numbers. “Where they get that 1 percent from, I have no idea,” says Zaida Martinez, a community health worker.

As it turns out, the state gets its numbers from LogistiCare. The company tracks its own complaints. The state admits it keeps no independent records.

The system may have led LogistiCare to underreport complaints in the past. A 2014 confidential audit in Connecticut found that “if a client (did) not specifically request to document a complaint, a complaint was not recorded.” Auditors found LogistiCare would also not record complaints if it felt it resolved the issue within 24 hours.

LogistiCare declined an on-camera interview, but by email, spokesperson Melissa Speir insists its New Jersey numbers are accurate. “Requirements and protocols vary enormously from state to state,” Speir says, and unlike Connecticut, New Jersey rules “require us to log any dissatisfaction as a complaint.” The NJDHS also says it is not concerned about underreporting.

But LogistiCare’s problems in New Jersey have not gone unnoticed. In the past two years, the state has penalized the company $442,000, and it is currently reviewing bidders for a new contract, which a spokesperson says will include greater oversight. But LogistiCare is one of the finalists, which has some patients concerned nothing may change.

“Everybody’s entitled to be a little late,” says Medicaid recipient Diane Stratton. “But not consistently leaving people where they have to wait for 2-3 hours to wait to get back home. It’s just not acceptable.”

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