Pushback by Columnist Al Norman: Ticket to ride 

  • Al Norman

Published: 3/16/2022 10:00:53 AM
Modified: 3/16/2022 10:00:40 AM

I picked up the ringing phone and recognized the voice. Something was wrong. My friend kept mumbling “um, um,”— and finally asked: “Who am I speaking to?” I replied: “This is Albert.” Her speech was slurred. “Is this Nora?” I asked. “Are you alright?”

Nora kept slurring her words. I asked her to look in the mirror to see if she saw or felt any numbness in her face. “No, my face looks fine.” I asked if she felt dizzy when she walked. She said “A little.” Within a minute or two, Nora’s cognition cleared, but she seemed unsure of what had just happened. I told her: “You may have had a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA).” I asked her to call her doctor right away. She called back a few minutes later to say she had an appointment that afternoon. “She wants me to come in to see her as soon as possible. Can you give me a ride?”

I have given Nora rides to medical appointments many times. Even though she is on MassHealth, the transportation system for elders and disabled people only works when you “schedule your trips at least three business days before your appointment.” Nora, 77, is a Type 2 diabetic. She sees many doctors, and has no car. MassHealth provides rides for medical, dental, mental health, and substance use disorder appointments. Nora’s primary care doctor has completed an online transportation request (PT-1) form, listing all Nora’s MassHealth providers, each address, and how often per month she needs a ride. The state claims it can take up to three business days to approve a PT-1 but I’ve seen it take several weeks to get on their computer list. If you need medical transportation before that, your doctor can call MassHealth’s Customer Service Center at (800) 841-2900 to request verbal approval. Once Nora was approved, she was assigned a “broker” to schedule her trips. The Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART), based in Gardner, coordinates trips for all of western Massachusetts. MART assigns each trip to a transportation company. Nora was not allowed to choose her own vendors.

MassHealth claims that “transportation for urgent care appointments that were given on the same day, or for the next day, will be provided.” But when I called MART, they told me they could only try to get a person a same day ride — they could not guarantee it. “We can ask the vendor in your area for a ride but we can’t force them to do it.” The vendor in Franklin County is the FRTA, and I have never been able to get a same day ride from them for any of my neighbors.

There are 2.14 million Massachusetts residents on MassHealth, roughly 30% of the population. They deserve a ride system that gets them to their health providers the same day they need attention. Some months ago, the FRCOG proposed using Lyft and Uber as potential ride sources, but these companies are being sued by Attorney General Maura Healey for violating state labor laws and are hardly the vendors I would choose. We need a local system of same day rides for the elderly and disabled. Lifepath runs a small “Rides For Health” program, and the 3 “Villages” programs could possibly expand ride services. Non-medical trips to the grocery store, drug store, or restaurants should be offered. Ultimately, the state legislature needs to remove the 3-business day prior requirement from MassHealth regulations.

Nora’s doctor believes she had a TIA that morning. She is taking a new medication, and has now asked me to drive her to an audiologist because MassHealth has not yet added this new address to her list of PT-1 approved sites.

Councilors should follow voters’ lead

Tonight, the Greenfield City Council can show citizens it paid attention to their vote last November not to make citizen referendums harder to get on the ballot. The Council’s Appointments and Ordinances Subcommittee took no action in February to change the language for citizen initiatives in the current Charter which requires 977 signatures to get on the ballot. If the council does not send the issue back to Ordinances to make citizen initiatives follow the same process as referendums, initiatives will require three times more signatures than referendums. Fifty-three percent of voters who voted in November opposed making referendums harder, as did voters in Precincts 1,2,3,6,7 and 9. Councilors should not substitute their opinion for that of the majority of voters they represent. Voters wanted easier citizen petitions not harder. Councilors should follow their constituents lead.

Al Norman’s Pushback column appears every third Wednesday of the month.


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