After a two-year hiatus, Enroute Transportation Services has taken over Medicaid transportation, but the company’s owner conceded the transition back to the county’s vendor has not been without a fair share of bumps in the road.
One Enroute client Kenneth Higginbotham attested as much, sharing his concerns with the Sampson Board of Commissioners during the public comment section at the end of Monday’s regular meeting.
“I’ve been late for several of my appointments since things have been handed back over to Enroute. They’ve come to pick me up and I go to use the equipment and the person driving cannot put me in the vehicle because the lift breaks,” said Higginbotham, who spoke to commissioners from his wheelchair. “I’ve missed several appointments over the past month — appointments I needed to be in attendance for.”
Higginbotham said “three different times” he has been in vans without air conditioning, causing him to be drenched in sweat by the time he got to his destination.
“They are just not adequate,” he said. “They haven’t helped me. We need to do better. I think the people of our county deserve it. There are older people than myself, in worse condition than me, who have to suffer through this. If you don’t believe me, take the same ride I took.”
Higginbotham clarified the appointments were counseling meetings at CommWellHealth. One appointment was at 11 a.m. and the van did not show up to his house until 11:30. For another 11 a.m. meeting, the van didn’t arrive until 1:18 p.m. On one of those visits, the van’s wheelchair lift did not work and a maintenance van had to be sent out.
“We have had some bumps along the way getting started, which is no different than Van-Go did when they started,” Enroute owner Ricky Moore said in response. “We totally covered their routes for six weeks when they started. We did that to keep these type of things from happening, which is just the nature of starting back up and getting back into the swing of things.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby asked Higginbotham whether anything similar happened when Van-Go Transportation Inc. was the county’s service provider. Higginbotham said it did not.
“Mr. Chairman, just for the record, I have gotten several calls personally of missed dialysis meetings and people riding in vans that are not air conditioned,” said Kirby. “Everybody knows what my vote was in this situation … and it is in litigation now. I think this county has done a disservice to its people, mostly my people.”
Van-Go filed suit against the county at the end of June, maintaining that a faulty bidding process, conflicts of interest among county officials and “numerous improper and unlawful events” deprived them of securing a $2 million Medicaid transportation contract for the next two years. Van-Go was the county’s service provider since 2013.
Last month, a judge ruled in favor of Sampson County, its Board of Commissioners and Enroute, denying Van-Go’s motion for a preliminary injunction and dissolving the company’s temporary restraining order in the matter of Medicaid transportation services.
A verified complaint by Van-Go sought compensatory damages, injunctive relief staying the award of a transportation services contract by Sampson County, and a declaratory judgment. By way of the temporary restraining order, Van-Go was able to continue Medicaid transportation and Enroute was enjoined from performing any acts under the contract.
On July 13, however, the matter came back to Sampson County Superior Court where motions were heard from both sides by a different judge, Superior Court Judge Charles H. Henry, including a motion for a preliminary injunction by the plaintiff (Van-Go) and a motion from the defendants to dissolve the temporary restraining order.
The judge found that Enroute’s bid “substantially conformed” with state law and, further, that surcharge language did not give it an “unreasonable advantage” in the bidding process. The judge said both vendors were responsible bidders, and that the contentions of Van-Go lacked merit.
Van-Go’s bid proposed a fixed cost per mile of service of $1.74, while Joss Transportation’s bid was $1.75. Enroute’s bid proposed a $1.54 rate, with an asterisk on the bid submission denoting a 1 cent fuel surcharge for each 5 cents per gallon over $3.95 per gallon, based on the average daily price at the Go-Gas station in Clinton. Attorney’s for Van-Go argued that the bid did not conform to the required specifications and was, thus, “non-responsive.”
“The surcharge language of Enroute’s bid did not give it an unreasonable advantage over the plaintiff or Joss,” Henry stated.
The vote for Enroute back in the spring split the county board 3-2, with Kirby and Parker dissenting. Kirby warned that litigation could follow, and it did. He reiterated his displeasure in the current state of Medicaid transportation on Monday.
“If people are not making their meetings — dialysis meetings — we are not serving our people,” Kirby asserted.
Moore offered his apologies to the Higginbotham and other clients, but stressed that the tough transition was not unlike what was faced by Van-Go two years ago.
“I sincerely apologize to the Higginbothams and the other clients. We have missed some appointments and we are working diligently to try and get these things corrected,” Moore stated. “For months after the other company took over I was continually getting messages on my answering machine of upset people having missed appointments and being late to appointments. This is not a situation that has just happened to me. The very same thing happened to them.”
“Certainly it’s not right and we’re working hard to get these things smoothed out,” Moore continued.
Enroute’s history of offering transportation services in Sampson for 16 years does not make the start-up any less “complex,” he said.
“It will take us just a little time to get things working good,” he noted. “I’m in the process of putting on more vehicles and employees as we speak. I just want to let you know we’re trying real hard, but it’s not anything that wasn’t experienced by the other company when they were starting up.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.