CINCINNATI — Judith Turner of Hamilton sat in a wheelchair for six hours at a medical supply store waiting for a ride home. She had no food and no use of a bathroom, so her urine dripped onto the floor.
Betty Summers of Milford was left on a stretcher at a hospital for five hours, waiting for a ride home from a doctor’s appointment. On another occasion, she had to reschedule a urology surgery a month late after missing her first surgery due to a no-show ride.
“They just didn’t show up. And didn’t call me,” Summers said. “I got nervous and depressed and gloomy. And I went, ‘Oh God I don’t want to go through this.’”
Transportation complaints are common at the advocacy group Pro Seniors in Cincinnati, which serves residents of Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties.
“I’ve heard of people sitting out in the rain at a dialysis center,” waiting for a ride home, said Bob Vines, managing ombudsman of Pro Seniors. “When MyCare Ohio started eight years ago, the idea was that it would save the state money and it would improve the care of its citizens. I haven’t seen that happen.”
MyCare Ohio is a managed care program for people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid. It is administered by the Ohio Department of Medicaid, which contracts with providers like Aetna Better Health of Ohio for services.
Pro Seniors gets two to three complaint calls about transportation each week, mostly from low-income seniors who have the Aetna plan through MyCare Ohio, Vines said.
“I would like the providers to take a very close look at the root causes of these issues. What is happening and why? Is it a matter of scheduling? Is it a matter of drivers? Is it a matter of overbooking? I have no idea,” Vines said. “Taxpayers are paying for this, and we should care about the comfort and safety our elderly citizens.”
At least 10 times over the past three years Turner said she has been left without a ride, despite scheduling one in advance through Aetna.
Once after a driver arrived late and her doctor canceled her appointment, Turner had to wait a month for a refill on her prescription pain medicine.
At other times Turner has been left for hours, often alone, waiting for a ride home from a scheduled transport that is very late. She said she’s complained numerous times to Aetna, but it’s never helped.
“I’m literally scared to go anywhere alone now. I don’t know if I’m going to be left or not,” said Turner, who wants Aetna to use reliable transportation vendors, and “not leave us stranded,” or “just let us wait.”
WCPO contacted the Ohio Department of Medicaid with these complaints.
“The kind of situations described should not be happening. This is very concerning,” said Lisa Lawless, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Medicaid. “After hearing about these issues, we reached out to the managed care plan, Aetna, and strongly encouraged them to take immediate action. They have pledged to better inform members about what to do if a ride is late and how to file a grievance.”
An Aetna spokesperson acknowledged the issue.
“Aetna Better Health of Ohio works diligently to ensure members have access to safe, timely and quality transportation,” said Aetna spokesperson Rose Miller. “We regret that some members have had experiences that do not meet those expectations, and we continue to monitor the situation.
“In response to challenges experienced by our members, we decided in June to terminate our agreement with our existing vendor as soon as contractually possible (December 31, 2022). We are working closely with our new partner to ensure greater oversight and accountability.”
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Medicaid is launching a new program on Dec.1, the Next Generation of Managed Care, which aims to improve transportation with new requirements for on-time pick-ups and drop-offs, and financial penalties for noncompliance.
“Situations like this should not occur,” Lawless said. “All Ohioans deserve quality, reliable healthcare and services they can depend on.”
Pro Seniors advocates say they are hopeful, but skeptical, that transportation for seniors will actually get better in January with a new vendor and a new program.
“We’re all going to be getting older. We’re all going to need these services,” Vines said. “We need to make sure that the services we’re providing … are working, that they are adequate, that they are being treated humanely.”
For Turner, she has no choice but to rely on MyChoice Ohio transportation. Her husband works during the day, she doesn’t live near a bus stop and she can’t afford to buy a wheelchair-accessible van.
“I just hope Aetna would get better. There are companies out here who will pick up the slack, I know there has to be,” Turner said. “It’s not just for me, there are others like me (who have it) worse than me.”
A few weeks ago, Turner ordered a transport so she could visit a senior living facility in Roselawn where she may move to. Afterward, she waited for more than three hours outside in the heat for a ride home.
“I’m calling, I’m crying … because I’m sitting outside by myself and I’m scared,” Turner said. “‘Please see if I can get a ride home.’ I said, ‘I know I made a reservation, please, please see if you can get me home.'”
Summers is also frustrated, but like Turner, she doesn’t have another option for transportation. Her grown children live far away, and she can no longer drive.
“You’re talking to a person who had been used to taking care of herself, driving anywhere I needed to go. And now, all of a sudden, I can’t do nothing to help myself — absolutely nothing,” Summers said. “That to me is degrading.”
MyCare Ohio members can contact the Ohio Department of Medicaid with complaints at medicaid.ohio.gov/contac [gcc02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] or 1-800-324-8680.
Aetna Better Health of Ohio members can get immediate assistance by calling “Where’s My Ride” at 1-866-799-4405 (TTY: 711) or members can contact their Aetna care manager by calling Member Services at 1-855-364-0974.