The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

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January 23, 2013

Future of SCUSA transportation may be at risk

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 — Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. On Sunday, staff writer Jason O. Boyd wrote a profile on SCUSA and the services it provides. For it, visit thesnaponline.com or pick up an issue at the SNAP office.

Gwen Hinson has used a simple philosophy to successfully run the Stanly County Umbrella Services Agency (SCUSA) for nearly 27 years.

“My daddy has said if you do something, you better do it right,” Hinson said.

That philosophy is one of the biggest reasons SCUSA has been so efficient and is recognized as one of the top organizations of its kind in the state. It’s currently the only system in the county that regularly transports people of all ages to different destinations, for things such as doctor’s appointments, when they can’t get there themselves.

It’s a heavily relied upon service that 17 agencies in the county as well as individuals who are just seeking public transportation can’t live without. But a proposal currently underway by the state of North Carolina could severely hamper those efforts and lead to some tough decisions by SCUSA.

The state has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for Non-Emergency Medicaid Transportation throughout the state. The state Department of Health and Human Services and the Office for Procurement and Contract Services specifically issued the RFP on Oct. 15, 2012.

The original deadline for proposal submissions was Nov. 15, 2012. However, lingering questions and issues now affecting current services like SCUSA have delayed the process at least twice.

The new deadline for submitted proposals is now set for Wednesday.

“The general assembly legislated that DHHS with DMA, which is the Division of Medical Assistance, put out an RFP for private service for non-emergency Medicaid services,” Hinson said.

“That was issued last year, and we thought we had stopped them from putting it out because we found out that DMA needed all this information and we were gathering this information but they were not asking for that information from us. We had it but they were not asking for it.

“Then the feds come down to do an audit on the state and they don’t have it. We’ve got it, so just change your system up at the state level. We can send you what you need and you won’t have to worry about going out for private companies doing this.”

If the state goes through with the proposal, a third party could come into places such as Stanly County and take over the shuttling services for Medicaid patients. Hinson and Sharon Scott, director of the Department of Social Services for Stanly County, agree that the number of patients would be around 25 percent of the people SCUSA assists, which comes to around 2,500 each month.

“Until they change, we are required to provide transportation,” Scott said.

“We operate on guidelines and SCUSA does, too. We will continue until told differently. I was in Raleigh the other day and they say although there is a RFP, it doesn’t mean they will reward one.

“It’s a situation where you wish someone would make a decision. Probably no decision means we will operate as normal, which is good for our clients but also for SCUSA.”

There is also the possibility that the RFP could result in SCUSA resuming the duties it already holds through a third party, similar to what it does with DSS. Hinson specifically addressed the issue with her employees in a meeting just before Christmas.

“If this is awarded to a company, they can come and contract with us and say ‘We are going to give you so much a trip to do whatever,’ ” Hinson said.

“We can either do it or not do it. It’s not like we have to do it but, of course, we don’t want to lose the business, we don’t want to lose the money. If the trip costs $15 and they are only going to give me $12, the county is not going to subsidize that $3 a trip every time I have to make it.

“We can’t do it at a loss. If we don’t do it, all these people are sitting around needing transportation, and we are sitting here ready to do it, but we don’t have the contract for it.”

The other possibility is that services are greatly affected and, at worse, employees could be laid off because of the decrease.

“We could have to lay off drivers with the system not as big, and the other argument is they could leave to work for the other company,” County Manager Andy Lucas said.

“It’s a little premature to say what impact it would be. We want to plan at the end of the day for everyone riding on our buses to get there safely and as efficiently as possible.”

There’s also the issue of losing the personal service that SCUSA has provided since 1986 for one that may not even have a call center in the same state, a place where patients can arrange for them to be picked up.

“When they bring somebody else in here, they don’t know the area, they don’t know the people, they don’t know the circumstances and chances are you could be talking with someone in Arizona or some other place at a call center," said Kay Eddins, operations supervisor with SCUSA.

“They don’t know anything about Stanly County, they don’t know anything about the people they are setting up transportation for. So yeah, it’s frustrating.”

 

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