CLEARWATER, Florida -- A medical transportation company that supposed to get low income people to doctor appointments has run out of money for July.
The 10 News Investigators hastold you about problems before with the Greater Pinellas Transportation Medical Services and its multi-million dollar contract and now the company is about to strand patients again.
"I said, what am I going to do? I got doctor's appointments and I need to go to them all." That's what Claudette Logan told us last year when the company that runs non-emergency Medicaid transportation in Pinellas County, GPTMS told her she would have to take a bus to her doctor's appointments. "My eye doctor said with your vision there is no way you can get on a bus to go anywhere," says Logan from St. Petersburg home.
Last year we tried to talk to GPTMS director David McDonald about the problem but McDonald ran from our cameras and jumped into an elevator. The county stepped in and made sure folks like Claudette got transportation to their doctor appointments.
But that was then and this is now. GPTMS emailed the county to tell them it is over budget for July and will halt all non-emergency medical transportation until August.
The President of the Florida Health Care Social Workers Regina Weilbacker is worried because many patients won't be able to see their doctors and get the medical attention they need.
"It is very frustrating and I don't know where to go. It's not right and a lot of those people have mental illness, they are schizophrenic, they are bipolar, and they don't get to an appointment they will be freaking out," says Weilbacker.
While advocates for the medically needy have been highly critical ofGPTMS in the past for not providing what they say is adequate services, these same advocates are now saying the majority of the blame for the lack of transportation for these patients until August--except in emergency--falls on the shoulders of the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged.
"Suddenly, now they ran out of money and the way the contract seems to be written the county allowed them to do that," says Weilbacker.
In an email to the county, GPTMS says the contract they have with the commission allows for the deferral of trips whenthey reach their budget for the month as long as no appointment is delayed by more than 15 business days. That means people like Claudette Logan have to wait to get to see the doctor and it is all done with the state's blessing.
We tried to get a comment from GPTMS, but no one from the company got back with us.
The county used the run the program but, when it couldn't make the numbers work, it put it out to bid. Advocates say the only solution is to allocate more tax dollars to take care of the medically needy. Others tell us they would like the county to take over the program again; or it should be run by a private agency with public funds.