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Legislators seek to oversee out-of-state company that schedules rides for vulnerable Hoosiers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A bill making its way through the Indiana Statehouse would create an oversight committee to monitor an out-of-state contractor in charge of non-emergency Medicaid transportation.

Last year, the state's Family and Social Services Administration signed a four-year, $128 million contract with Georgia-based Southeastrans, putting the company in charge of transportation providers and scheduling. Prior to the deal, transportation for Medicaid patients had been provided privately through individual providers throughout the state. FSSA officials said they hoped to better serve patients by centralizing scheduling and monitoring vehicle safety.

Since Southeastrans began operation in June, though, demand for rides has skyrocketed, growing by as much as 350% as the company struggled to sign on providers fast enough to get people to their appointments.

CBS4 Problem Solvers has heard from patients for months who say they experienced major issues, including rides that were cancelled at the last minute or never showed up at all.

Angela James said her mother Beverly, 80, who lives in a nursing home after suffering a stroke last year, missed three neurologist appointments.

"She's not able to get in a car and so we have to have reliable transportation to be able to get there," James said.

James and other patients also described a confusing complaint process, which left them calling and speaking to various Southeastrans and state officials, but unable to file a formal complaint over the phone or online.

In December, CBS4 Problem Solvers sat down with FSSA Secretary Dr. Jennifer Walthall, who said the state had not anticipated how fast the service would grow and was working diligently with Southeastrans to fix it.

"We are incredibly sorry. ... That has never been the intention, to not meet members needs every day, every time," Walthall said.

Following monthly meetings with FSSA, State Senator Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, co-authored Senate Bill 480. The bill proposes an oversight committee made up of legislators and stakeholders, which would meet at least twice a year to look over complaints, seek reports from Southeastrans, and dole out incentive pay.

"They should’ve done a pilot program first, that way you could see what the problems were, where the issues were, and where you needed to make changes," Becker said.

However, Becker acknowledged that she believed Southeastrans was working to fix issues and said she hoped to improve the process.

"We’re the ones that get the calls when there’s an issue and there’s a problem, so hopefully we can do a better job and get this off on the right track," Becker said.

The bill, if passed, would also require Southeastrans to provide monthly reports and post detailed information on its website, including numbers of missed rides. It would also establish a more robust complaint system, with a dedicated toll free phone number and a "File a Complaint" button on the company's web page.

James said she would welcome the oversight, especially since she found it so difficult to file her own complaint.

"I just want to be heard and make sure that others are heard and they’re accommodated and to make sure that they get the transportation that is a benefit," James said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and has been sent to the House for consideration.

A Southeastrans spokesperson sent this statement Friday:

"Southeastrans continues to make consistent improvements in on-time performance and service quality throughout the State. We are committed to working with the State and lawmakers in every way possible to meet the increasing demand for non-emergency transportation services and in improving access to medical services for all Medicaid Enrollees."

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