Medicaid patients say King and Snohomish County transportation broker is failing them

A former nurse and bilateral amputee says a local non-profit that brokers transportation for Medicaid patients like herself is letting people down.

Adrienne Gegg is blunt about what she felt like doing when she tells KIRO 7 News she was stranded in February after a medical appointment in Tacoma.

“I’m gonna call 911 and claim abandonment… and elder abuse,” Gegg said.

Over the years, KIRO 7 talked with Gegg about issues she’s experienced with a service called Hopelink.

It’s paid $470,350 every month in Medicaid dollars in a 50/50 state and federal match to arrange non-emergency medical transportation for patients in King and Snohomish counties.

On February 23rd, Gegg said a Hopelink dispatcher told her they didn’t have a vehicle with a hoist to pick her up. Gegg can use hoists with her wheelchair but often uses a ramp with Hopelink.

“I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Gegg told KIRO 7 News at her Des Moines home.

Phone records show her certified nursing assistant, Jane, was on hold for 30 minutes on her cell during this experience. She was also trying on a landline to reach someone else at Hopelink who could help.

When Gegg finally got a callback, she discovered Hopelink still hadn’t found a solution.

“I said, you know, I’m stuck,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, I’ll go back and check your records.’ I said, ‘That’s not going to get me home, but [yes], would you please go and check my records? You have been transporting me for four years.’”

Gegg said she was finally picked up nearly three hours after her scheduled pick-up time. And it wasn’t the first time this spring they’ve had to wait long periods on hold to reach anyone at Hopelink for help. Phone records show on March 3rd, Gegg’s nursing assistant waited 46 minutes on the phone with Hopelink.

“It’s a very beneficial program,” Gegg said of Hopelink. “But it does need some reorganization in its dispatch.”

In Olympia, Washington State’s Health Care Authority oversees Hopelink and its funding.

KIRO 7 requested the past few years of data to see how it’s been doing.

In 2018 and 2019, Hopelink completed 985,716 trips and 925,124 total trips, respectively, and late pick-ups hovered at 7% for both years.

Rides dropped during the pandemic: In 2020, Hopelink completed 499,934 trips and recorded 6% of them, 31,153, as late pick-ups.

Since then, the percentage of late pick-ups has gone up. In 2021, late pick-ups returned to 7%. In 2022, that number rose to 8%, while Hopelink completed fewer total rides - 577,648 - than it did before the pandemic.

The data also states that last year, the average call hold time for King County was nine minutes and 46 seconds, with Snohomish County’s just a little less at nine minutes and 40 seconds.

“I don’t believe them,” Gegg said when KIRO 7 shared those numbers with her. “I’ve never experienced that.”

Even those numbers still don’t meet Hopelink’s own goal of answering a call within five minutes.

“Is that acceptable?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked the HCA’s Todd Slettvet, manager of the Community Services section.

“Actually, there’s more to it than that,” Slettvet said.

He told KIRO 7 the national average for wait times at call centers is more like 13 minutes, so the HCA is considering adjustments to “call center performance measures.”

“So you’re lowering that standard?” Sheldon asked.

“We are considering lowering the standard,” Slettvet said. “One of the biggest issues impacting not only all of our brokers in the state, but everywhere, is the ability to hire new staff… and keep qualified call center staff.”

Hopelink’s Chief Operating Officer Geoff Crump said the non-profit needs more money for its non-emergency medical transportation division to do that.