Charles Boykin, representative for Van-Go Transportation Inc., offers Van-Go's proposal for dual Medicaid transportation contracts that would pay each company equally. (Chris Berendt/Sampson Independent)
Board of Commissioners chairman Billy Lockamy expresses concern over disrupting quality service in Medicaid transports in the county during Monday's meeting. (Chris Berendt/Sampson Independent)
Commissioner Harry Parker, right, offers a proposal that would provide contracts to Enroute and Van-Go at an amount of $2.10 per mile, splitting the difference between Van-Go's low bid of $1.65 and current provider Enroute's bid of $2.55. The proposal was accepted by the board, contingent on Enroute's approval. (Chris Berendt/Sampson Independent)
After two weeks of deadlock, the county may be on the brink of having its Medicaid Transportation woes resolved, however a dual company agreement by which both would be paid equally is contingent on the current provider’s acceptance of the proposal.
The action to award the contracts, voted to unanimously by the board Monday following a series of 2-2 votes in recent meetings, was contingent upon Enroute Transportation Services Inc. agreeing, as well as both Enroute and fledgling Van-Go Transportation Inc. meeting all state and federal contract requirements.
After hours of discussion, confrontation and heated exchanges over the past two weeks, that concerned everything from misdemeanor convictions and perceived nepotism to a bid award against state statute, the board came to some common ground during talks Monday.
Charles Boykin, a representative of initial low bidder Van-Go, opened the discussion with a statement on behalf of company president Dr. Azzam Osman.
“After careful consideration and consultation, and because of the length of time left before the impending July 4 date,” said Boykin, “he is willing to accept the two-contract concept as long as both contracts are identical, including the fuel surcharge. Hopefully there will be a means of monitoring the failings of this process.”
Board chairman Billy Lockamy questioned the proposal.
“One is $1.65 and the other one is $2.55, how are we going to get identical?” the chairman asked.
“That’s what we’re saying. We’re asking that both of them be the same, especially after we had the lowest bid,” Boykin answered. “That bid was based on the fact that we thought we were getting the entire contract. But based on the deadlock for the last two meetings, he’s willing to compromise as long as he gets the exact same thing the other company is getting.”
Lockamy said he thought that would be “defeating the purpose,” saying that Van-Go would eventually get the full contract as the lowest bidder once they “start up their service and prove that they are in business and can perform.”
“We don’t feel that’s fair,” said Boykin. “We think, as the lowest bidder, we should have received the entire contract, which we did not. We feel that’s state law, but that didn’t occur. So we feel that the only fair thing is to have an equal contract with the other company.”
Commissioner Harry Parker offered a proposal of his own that he felt would be fair to both companies.
He said the two bids should be averaged out to $2.10 until such time as Van-Go is able to shoulder the full contract, at which time the company would do so for its original $1.65 bid.
“When both companies are working together, they should be treated fairly,” said Parker. “Both of them should get the same thing.”
Additionally, Parker said, a review by the Department of Social Services, county manager and commissioners as to the performance of each provider and their referral records shall be conducted on a quarterly basis.
“If both contracts are the same amount, there’s no basis to prefer one over the other,” assistant county manager Susan Holder pointed out. “We’d have to set up some revolving situation.”
Lockamy raised concerns.
“I’m still concerned for recipients already receiving this service,” he said. “I want there to be continuance service without any break — service that they’re used to. I’m not saying (Van-Go) couldn’t do that. Why would we jeopardize that when we could have two contracts and keep them both working?”
If Enroute is providing continuance service, Boykin countered, there would be no break in the service with two contracts.
“We can have multiple contracts with whoever you decide to contract with,” said DSS director Sarah Bradshaw. “For those companies we are anticipating paying over $25,000, we have to have a contract and it has to meet the federal requirements. If you don’t decide on (awarding contracts), the providers have to be on the phone with their drivers scheduling those trips for July 1 and forward by Monday of next week.”
There are hundreds of trips, close to 1,000, already scheduled for July. If contracts are not approved, providers will have to be paid less than $25,000 until contract issues are worked out, meaning referrals will have to be spread out “over every possible provider.”
“There will be continuance service,” said Parker. “I don’t see any interruptions as Enroute is doing that service now.”
“Until June 30,” said Bradshaw. “We’re hoping there won’t be (interruptions). We spend $25,000 in about seven work days.”
Parker said residents in his district are affected the most of anyone in the county, living about 25 miles or farther from the facilities in Clinton where they would be receiving treatment. Bradshaw agreed.
“The quicker we get this into service, the quicker we can serve the people of Sampson County without any lapse,” said Parker. “As the chairman said, we want them to get the same type of service they have been provided with, and that’s why we’re trying to get these contracts straight.”
With no contracts in place, Bradshaw said the agency would be scrounging for Medicaid transports locally, even utilizing staff, to give rides to those who need them, all while not paying any one vendor more than $25,000. With contracts, DSS would be dealing with multiple vendors and Van-Go’s staff would have to be trained immediately leading up to July 1.
“We can work with Van-Go on a parallel track, and working in terms of what we can do without contracts in place,” said Bradshaw. “We’re going to be working to make sure there’s continuance service. Thinking without contracts in place, we can pay up to $25,000. That will take many, many people providing service.”
Boykin said Van-Go could be ready, but was waiting on a contract before hiring drivers. An order has already been placed for several vehicles, and Boykin said they will be brand new vehicles, all 2013 models.
“We could’ve bought used vehicles, but we didn’t. We bought brand new vehicles, because we wanted to provide the best service possible,” said Boykin. “I’ve ordered 14 (vehicles), but if it’s two contracts, we won’t need 14. The longer this process goes on, the harder it is for us to go ahead and pull the trigger on the number of vehicles.”
Van-Go has office space and, along with getting vehicles in place, it takes a few days to get logos on the vans and hire drivers, Boykin said.
“When you said you were 80 percent ready the other day, what was the 20 percent that was left?” asked Bradshaw.
Boykin said hiring the drivers was the last piece. The vehicles were ordered, and just needed to be delivered.
“I took it as 80 percent of the contract requirements met,” said Bradshaw.
“We can’t put somebody on the staff without a contract,” said Boykin. “It’s going to be pretty difficult for us to tell a person to quit their job and come to work for us as a driver with no contract.”
Kirby asked whether Van-Go could be ready at the end of this week or the first of next if a contract was in place by mid-week. Boykin said that would be no problem, and at a point that full contract can be taken over, Boykin said there was similarly no issue with going back down to $1.65.
“I would hope that would happen fast,” said Kirby. “My mouth starts watering when I see $1.65 versus ($2.10).”
Enroute currently receives $2.15 per mile, with an additional 7 cent fuel surcharge, bringing the rate to $2.22 per mile.
“The county would need to be contacted to see if they would agree to that reduction,” Bradshaw said.
Jefferson Strickland made a motion to award dual contracts at $2.10 per mile, contingent upon both companies meeting the requirements of the contract. Albert Kirby seconded and the vote was unanimous.
Enroute owner Ricky Moore was contacted by Holder Tuesday morning and was expected to hear back late Tuesday or possibly Wednesday.
“We have to see if Enroute would accept it,” Lockamy said. “If they won’t accept it, we’re right back to square one. I’m hoping they will. I’m afraid (Van-Go) won’t be up and running. Dollars and cents is one thing fellas, but that doesn’t put a price on somebody having to be at a hospital to have dialysis at a certain time. It’s taxpayers money, but the emphasis I look at is the value of the people and the service they’re going to get.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.