Laurie Thomas had to see her doctor.
The 51-year-old diabetic and recent amputee was battling an infection on one foot and was concerned about a cut on her other leg. She had regular medical appointments and her doctor was taking care of her. She just had to get to him.
So earlier this week she called Coordinated Transportation Solutions and scheduled a ride to her 11 a.m. appointment. Since Aug. 1, the Connecticut-based company has held a $28.3 million contract with the state to serve as ride broker for MaineCare patients who need transportation.
It hasn't been going well.
On Friday, it didn't go well for Thomas, either.
"I was outside at 10:15, just to make sure that nobody would come early for the appointment," she said. "CTS told me 10:40; I was out there at 10:15. I was out there until 11:15. No ride."
Thomas, who lives in Auburn, said she tried to call CTS at 10:45 a.m. when her ride didn't show, but the representative told her that her ride confirmation number wasn't enough — he needed her MaineCare number, and he couldn't help her without it. That number was in her purse, which she'd accidentally left at a friend's house the night before. She couldn't reach her friend to retrieve her purse.
She went back outside.
By 11:15 a.m., with no ride and her doctor's appointment long gone, Thomas said she called CTS again and demanded to speak to a supervisor. The representative refused, saying she had to have her MaineCare number before anyone at CTS would speak with her.
She said she called the Office of MaineCare Services to get her number, but no representative there picked up. After staying on hold for 32 minutes, she hung up in frustration.
She said she never had such problems prior to CTS.
"At least (Western Maine Transportation) could talk to you," she said. "At least they came if you were out there."
Rides in this area used to be handled by Community Concepts and Western Maine Transportation, agencies that booked rides and provided the transportation. State officials said they had to change that system because the federal government considered it a conflict of interest to have one agency handle requests for transportation and provide rides.
The state contracted with three agencies to broker rides. CTS is now broker for the MaineCare patients in the state's most rural counties, including Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford. It also handles Aroostook, Washington, Hancock, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Cumberland, Kennebec and Somerset counties.
CTS came under fire as soon as its work began. MaineCare patients flooded the Maine Department of Health and Human Services with complaints about the company. Thousands of riders have said they were stranded, delivered to the wrong place or unable to book a ride at all.
By the beginning of October, CTS call wait times were so long that as many as half of callers hung up. By the beginning of November it was estimated that CTS had missed more than 5,000 rides.
Last week, DHHS issued a news release in which it said CTS had improved in the past two months but the department would continue to assess the company's performance.
"We are making good progress on the review, but no final determination has been made regarding the contract," the statement said.
On Thursday, Gov. Paul LePage said it was likely some parts of the CTS contract would be renewed and others wouldn't.
Thomas had a problem with CTS before. About a month ago she missed an appointment with her surgeon when her ride didn't show up.
On Friday, after missing that morning appointment, Thomas called her doctor's office in tears. She needed medical care. The office was able to get her a late afternoon appointment, but it was with a doctor who didn't know her. She scooped it up.
But Thomas, who uses a wheelchair, didn't know how she was going to get there.
Her friends weren't available to give her a ride. A taxi would cost $20 round trip, money she didn't have. For part of the afternoon she seriously considered borrowing money from someone and taking a taxi to a local emergency room — a trip that would cost her just $10 round trip but would end up costing MaineCare dramatically more than her planned office appointment.
By 3 p.m., an hour before her new appointment, she did what she had been desperate not to do: She called her 18-year-old son at work and asked him to drive her to the doctor.
He left work early, missing an hour of regular time and all of the overtime he'd planned to work that evening.
As the family's sole supporter, it was pay he couldn't afford to lose.
"I counted on that ride," Thomas said.
Requests for comment were not returned by CTS or the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Friday.