Civic Affairs

Patients 'beyond frustrated' with medical transport

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Some Medicaid patients in the Portland area say a change intended to improve a free medical-transportation program has ended up worsening service, leaving them struggling to schedule rides for doctors' appointments. 

Health Share of Oregon – a coordinated care organization funded by Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program – offers the Ride to Care program to its Medicaid-recipient clients in the Portland tri-county area. Health Share of Oregon decided to cut ties with the out-of-state vendor supporting the Ride to Care service, switching to Portland-based company GridWorks on June 1. 

The goal, Health Share of Oregon communications manager Stephanie Vandehey said, was to offer a higher quality of service to clients. Vandehey said the previous call center was based in Florida, and employees weren't as familiar with Portland's local transportation options. 

The transition, however, has not been as smooth as Health Share of Oregon might have liked.  

The Ride to Care website informs patients, "The new Ride to Care began June 1st. We are currently experiencing high call volumes and are working hard to reduce wait times." That, according to patient Jan Hatcher, is an understatement. Hatcher is legally blind and can't drive; she depends on the free service to take her to important doctors' appointments.

"I've been trying six to eight times a day, and I can't get through," Hatcher said. She added that she typically is put on hold for 20 to 30 minutes, then, an automated message informs her of the high wait times and disconnects the call. 

"I'm beyond frustrated," Hatcher said.

She's not alone. Another patient, 86-year-old Frances Mae Jarvis, said she waited on the line for 45 minutes on Tuesday, trying to schedule a ride for a Thursday doctor's appointment. Eventually, the call was disconnected. She was never able to speak with an employee. 

GridWorks founder Ross Peterson referred KOIN 6 News to Health Share of Oregon to answer all questions associated with the program. Vandehey, the Health Share of Oregon communications manager, said the company was well-aware of some of the problems. 

"We're working 'round the clock to iron those issues out," Vandehey said. "As we move into week two, we're already seeing a significant decrease of those issues." 

Vandehey said GridWorks had hired 30 additional call-center employees to lower hold times. She said call volume had doubled as of June 1, as patients learned of some new benefits associated with the Ride to Care service.  

Despite the changes, Vandehey said, "We did not anticipate higher interest in the program or level of calls." Vandehey said Ride to Care typically provides 6,000 trips a day to Medicaid recipients. 

With the new call-center employees, Vandehey said that the average wait time on hold had dropped down to seven minutes. 

On Friday afternoon, however, Hatcher tried – once again – to schedule her ride. She had memorized the number to call, and she knew the hold music well. 

More than 15 minutes passed; then, the automated message began, disconnecting the call.  

Hatcher said the lack of service makes her feel as if her and other Medicaid patients don't matter to GridWorks. 

"I'm just a number, and it doesn't matter to you. It's not your doctor's appointment. What if [other patients] are missing very important appointments, like dialysis, radiation or chemotherapy?" Hatcher asked. "That's scary – that is really scary."  

KOIN 6 News has reached out to Oregon Health Plan to learn whether the state Medicaid program intends to intervene to help Medicaid recipients dependent on the Ride to Care service.  

This story will be updated.  
 


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