April 08, 2018 10:55 PM
The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be adding new staff to increase the frequency of inspections of private, non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) vehicles that bring Minnesotans to medical appointments, according to an agency official.
KSTP obtained through a public records request year-2017 inspection and safety checks on 125 NEMT companies with vehicles that were on the state-administered list of providers.
Records showed inspectors found some minor violations. But they also found violations that included companies using drivers without background checks; wheelchair lift problems; brake issues; emissions issues; and bad tires.
Henry Ostby's family hired an NEMT provider to drive their 92-year-old grandmother, Marga Moen, from a hospital to a Rochester care facility last year.
The family said the van broke down and Marga was stuck alongside the road. She eventually made it back to the care center, and the company apologized.
"It wasn't a good situation, but she's one of the strongest people that I know," Ostby said.
The family said they could not find inspection, quality or safety reports on NEMT companies.
"I think it's really important to be vocal about situations like this so other families have the option to make other choices," Ostby said.
Currently, the only way to obtain annual state inspection reports on NEMT vehicles is to file a public records request with MnDOT.
"If I'm a provider and I want that info out there that my business is a good one – obviously the ones that are not doing a good job wouldn't want that info out there," said State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. "The state should be doing everything in their power to make sure it's easily available."
Marty said he'd like the state to make inspection reports and information on providers more accessible to the community so they can learn who is picking up their loved one.
"We regulate these carriers for a reason," said Deb Ledvina, MnDOT director of Commercial Vehicle Operations. "It's up to me to make sure they can cut through the bureaucracy and find the information they need to find."
Ledvina told KSTP she's open to a discussion on publishing inspection reports online. "I say let's explore it," Ledvina said. "I'm not against it."
MnDOT is adding more staff to handle complaints from providers, transportation companies and consumers by launching a new complaint hotline: 651-366-3661; Minnesota Relay at 711; or 800-627-3529.
Currently, MnDOT inspections of NEMT providers are conducted once a year.
Vehicles with critical violations that could cause a breakdown or a crash – including bald tires, leaking exhaust, and cracked windshields – fail inspections, the department said. Once those defects are fixed, MnDOT requires them to be inspected again.
If the violations are non-critical – for example an inoperable horn, low tire pressure or identification markings not properly displayed – they must be repaired within 15 days, a spokesperson said.
"I think as regulators we get very comfortable doing the regulation and we forget there are people relying on us to do our jobs on the outside," Ledvina said.
Dan Hirsch, an NEMT provider, sits on a state advisory committee made up of transportation industry members, health care industry officials, and senior and mental health advocates
"I don't see a reason anyone would have an issue with (the data) being released," Hirsch said of the state sharing inspection records. "The more transparent the better."
Hirsch wants to make sure that drivers' personal information, though, is left off any inspection report released.
That driver information was redacted by MnDOT in the records provided to KSTP.
Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Inspection Data
This inspections data, provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, is broken up into five searchable PDF files:
MnDOT provided KSTP the following inspection reports from 125 companies that are state administered and enrolled with Minnesota Health Care Programs through the Department of Human Services.
There are other NEMT providers that are administered at the county level which are not included in the search.
There are nearly 300 NEMT providers in the state of Minnesota, according to MnDOT.
Updated: April 08, 2018 10:55 PM
Created: April 08, 2018 09:27 PM
Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company