By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
How many of you reading this column have ever heard of CTS? If I told you the initials stood for Coordinated Transportation Solutions, would that ring a bell? Probably not.
Yet at the beginning of January of this year, this company dominated the news in a very negative fashion. This was the company contracted by Maine’s Office of MaineCare Services to provide rides to those on MaineCare (Medicaid) needing transportation to appointments.
CTS was contracted by the State of Maine after the federal government forced the state into a brokering system after it concluded that contracting only one company, in this case Community Concepts, presented a conflict of interest. Enter CTS, who brokered contracts with several companies, including Community Concepts, to provide the transportation needs of individuals on MaineCare.
CTS, which is based in Connecticut, set up their Maine operation in Lewiston and staffed it with 50 area employees. It started providing services on August 1, 2013 after signing a $28.3 million contract with DHHS. Like any new business, starting up can be rough, especially when you have to gear up for 130,000 to 150,000 rides per month.
Thus, CTS got off to a rocky start as it implemented its services. DHHS was flooded with complaints from clients who stated they were not being picked up, they were being dropped off at the wrong location and they could not get through to the service. These deficiencies served to make a great news story. And a great news story it turned out to be—although very one sided.
Whatever happened to the saying, “There are two sides to every story”? In this case, the other side of the story takes the punch out of the one-sided story.
CTS’s poor start out of the box was a result of three problems beyond their control: customer questions, vacationing volunteer drivers and politics.
The initial calls to the center went beyond name, address, date and time of appointment. Customer service and relationships being paramount to any business, CTS kept the employees on the phone with clients who wanted details about the company, thus tying up the multiple business lines.
There were many volunteer drivers who took the end of summer off to enjoy it with family and friends. After a brief time off, they returned to their volunteer work.
Then enter politics. Democratic State Senator Colleen Lachowicz of Waterville, chairman of the State and Local Government Committee, pushed for a system used in the progressive socialist State of Vermont. Meanwhile, Democratic State Senator Troy Jackson of Allagash called for the contract with CTS to be cancelled.
Some legislators have suggested giving preferential treatment to Maine-based Full Service Regional Transportation Program (FSRTP), the service that ran the state DHHS program prior to CTS. They apparently didn’t get the message that the change from FSRTP to CTS was the result of federal intervention.
Since the media bashing, CTS has worked out the bugs and is now in full compliance with every standard set forth by DHHS. The most recent data, which covers November to January, shows that CTS has successfully completed over 99 percent of its rides each month. Customer complaints are less than one percent, a statistic that any Maine business would be proud of.
In addition, waiting time for those calling in for a ride is less than 30 seconds. It should also be noted that a bid submitted by FSRTP, which wants to get back in the game, is twice what CTS is charging.
CTS’s Maine operation is based in Lewiston. Fifty area people are gainfully employed at the facility, which according to DHHS’s latest statistics is running very efficiently. The company presents no “conflicts of interest” in the eyes of the federal government. So why replace them?
In a period of constant state budget shortfalls, CTS is giving us the best bang for the buck while not adding to the state debt.
Lastly, we expect Lewiston’s state delegation to use its political prowess to insure CTS’s contract is renewed and they continue to occupy their current Lewiston operation.