10 News Investigators find complaints about transportation company

11:00 AM, Mar 13, 2012   |    comments
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Claudette Logan is legally blind and relies on county transportation to get to her doctor's appointments.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There's nothing worse than waiting for the bus in the hot Florida sun -- unless you're waiting in a wheelchair or suffer from dementia.

The company that runs the Pinellas County non-emergency Medicaid transportation company responsible for getting people to their doctor's appointments doesn't seem to have a problem with handing out bus passes to these folks.

What's that costing you? $3 million a year.

"Pathetic. It's pathetic. It's not just sad, it is pathetic," says Pinellas County social worker Regina Weilbacker, who had to scramble earlier this year to get rides for her clients.

The company Weilbacker is describing is the Greater Pinellas Transportation Management System. She told 10 News about major problems her clients have gone through since GPTMS took over transportation for the county.

According to Weilbacker, the problems have ranged from transportation being denied to clients waiting for hours to be picked up to patients being told they would have to take the bus.

"They would rather put them on the bus so it doesn't come out of their pocket," she adds.

Weilbacker says the company has promised several times to meet with her to work out the problems, but the meetings never seem to happen.

According to Florida Department of State Division of Corporations records, David McDonald is a director of GPTMS. He told the County Committee that gave his company the contract that he has to make sure he stays under budget.

"Yeah, they're making a profit and they should make a profit, but not off the backs off the elderly and the poorest people in this county, that's not right," says Weilbacker.

McDonald ran away and jumped into an elevator to avoid talking with 10 News when we asked him to address some of the complaints. He didn't want to talk about folks like Claudette Logan. "I am legally blind and I cannot get on a bus with the escort, and due to my medication I have to stay out of the heat of the sun."

Logan tells 10 News she lost sight in her left eye this year due to glaucoma, a disease that runs in the family.

Studies have shown that Medicaid can save money by making sure those on Medicaid get to their scheduled doctor's appointments. This way, any illness or health issue can be addressed before its get worse and the patient has to be hospitalized.

It's clear GPTMS wants as many people as possible to ride the bus based not only from the numerous complaints, but also from talking to social workers and patients like Logan.

The company has been under fire since a November 2010 audit pointed out a potential conflict of interest between GPTMS company officers and service providers with the Metropolitan Planning Organization contract. GPTMS won the profitable bid despite the audit and concerns raised by patients.

One problem is the length of time the company leaves clients on hold when they call. 

"Every time you call for a ride, you're going to have to wait on the phone for 35 minutes to an hour," says Logan, whose frustration is visible on her face. "'Your call is very important to us,' that's what they keep saying and the music is playing for 35 minutes to an hour every time I call."

GPTMS says it is working on the complaints, but those left to deal with the problems maintain that's just not true. "It's been frustrating, it's been annoying, and meeting with him...you are going over the same rhetoric and you're not fixing anything," says Weilbacker.

Claudette Logan sees it a little differently.

"America is the land of the free. If America loves their people, they shouldn't do their elderly and disabled people this way. Money is not everything."

While many in Pinellas who need a ride to their doctor's appointments are not getting it, a lot of people say it's the taxpayers that are being taken for a ride.

As for Claudette Logan, she's been given a month's reprieve from having to take the bus and a cab will take her to her doctor's appointments until it's determined if she qualifies for door-to-door service.

Meanwhile, the state says the GPTMS contract is just for six months, but it will no doubt be extended until the end of the year so it can request bids for companies that are interested in running the service in 2013.

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