SHERWOOD, Ore. (KOIN) -- Medicaid patients continue to come forward with stories about the issues they've experienced with a Portland-area medical-transportation service.
Following KOIN 6 News' reporting on problems with the new vendor behind Health Share of Oregon's Ride to Care service, numerous elderly patients described being put on hold for long periods of time -- up to 45 minutes -- only to be disconnected. Others say they were able to book rides to doctor's appointments but were then left stranded, with no easy way home.
Phyllis Wilde says she used Ride to Care to get to her cardiologist appointment in Portland on June 1 – the first day that Health Share of Oregon switched vendors for the transportation service. Health Share of Oregon said that it had been using an out-of-state vendor with a call center in Florida, but after experiencing too many problems, awarded the Ride to Care contract to Portland-based GridWorks.
After her cardiologist appointment, Wilde, 81, said she waited for an hour-and-a-half for Ride to Care to pick her up to take her home. She said she waited on the phone for 20 minutes but hung up because her phone's battery was dwindling as a result.
Wilde said a Ride to Care representative wearing a shirt printed with the company's name was standing outside the doctor's office, where several Ride to Care users were trying to find their rides home.
"After the first hour, I said to him, 'You had Broadway Cab bring me in, why can't you call Broadway Cab now and bring me home?'" Wilde said. She said the representative told her there had been a "mistake," and her return ride was booked for July – one month after her appointment. Wilde eventually boarded the streetcar, and then the bus, in order to get home.
"If it wasn't for the bus driver, I would not have made it home. She literally got off the bus, carried my walker and helped me on. I was breathing so heavy," Wilde said. She said she worried – after two open-heart surgeries – that she might have a heart attack due to the exertion.
Frances Mae Jarvis, meanwhile, was unable to get to her doctor's appointment at all. The 85-year-old Southeast Portland resident said she had scheduled an important doctor's visit on Thursday afternoon – 6 days after the Ride to Care transition started.
"They'd call in with that recording and [say], 'Hang on, hang on,' so I did, but after 45 minutes they hung up," Jarvis said. She tried calling back but had the same experience a second time.
Unable to afford a ride and with no way to get to her doctor's office, Jarvis was eventually forced to cancel the appointment.
"I had no way of getting there. I can barely walk around the house. In three months, I'll be 86," she said. "I depended on them, but they're undependable."
On Friday, Health Share of Oregon told KOIN 6 News that after hiring additional call-center employees, the average time on hold had dropped to 7 minutes. On Monday, Jarvis waited longer than that before hanging up.
"They totally let me down," she said. "They won't answer the phone. I can't even reach them."
Health Share of Oregon Communications Manager Stephanie Vandehey answered KOIN 6 News' follow-up questions by email on Monday. Vandehey wrote that the coordinated-care organization has received more than 5,000 calls each weekday since June 1, which was unexpected and more than double the previous call volume.
She added that there are now over 60 call-center staffers, up from 40 on June 1.
"As call volumes return to normal levels and with more call center staff onboard, our target is that 80% of all calls will be answered in 20 seconds or less," she wrote. In the email, Vandehey did not provide an updated average wait time for callers as of Monday.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for Oregon Health Plan – the state's Medicaid program that provides funding to Health Share of Oregon – told KOIN 6 News that it reaches out to coordinated-care organizations when it notices a "surge of complaints about a particular issue."
"This is what we did regarding Health Share’s new transportation vendor, and at this point in time, we are assured that Health Share is taking the steps necessary to improve their members’ experiences in obtaining transportation. OHA will continue to closely monitor the situation," the spokesperson wrote.
While the vendor transition was intended to reduce problems, some patients said their experiences suggest the problems have only worsened.
Wilde, for one, said she'll never depend on Ride to Care again.
"I would walk first," she said. "And you know I can't walk very far."