State probes van service Metro Access hired by county to drive patients for care; 2nd investigation this year; Performance, safety and maintenance records scrutinized


The state agency that regulates transportation is investigating the safety, maintenance and performance records of the company that Anne Arundel County has contracted with to transport sick people to medical appointments.

Possible problems with the van service, Virginia-based Southeast Transit/Metro Access, emerged two weeks ago when several employees and riders complained that the company frequently violated safety guidelines, left patients stranded for hours and hid complaints about such service from the county.

Maryland Public Service Commission officials said Friday they would not discuss the details of their inquiry until it is complete. They said their investigation began last week after they received several complaints from county residents. The probe is expected to continue through next week.

This is the second time this year the commission has investigated Metro Access, which transports patients on Medicaid to and from doctors' appointments. In April, a review of the company's operations in Prince George's County showed that vans and equipment were not being properly maintained. The commission called in company officials and demanded improvement.

Anne Arundel County officials also are stepping up their monitoring of the comrepresentatives for on-site inspections and issuing a rider survey. County officials said they asked the Public Service Commission for assistance and welcome the inquiry.

County Health Officer Frances Phillips said commission draft reports show the company has met baseline safety standards, with seven out of eight vans in working order.

But commission spokeswoman Chrys Wilson said that if state inspectors find a well-run program the first day at the site, they do not return. Inspectors have been at Metro Access' Anne Arundel County headquarters for two weeks.

"Usually people who call us don't lie about certain things," Wilson said.

County officials said they will investigate the condition of vans and are considering offering a wallet card explaining riders' rights.

The county said it also will review whether company drivers are wearing uniforms -- one of the stipulations of the one-year, $720,000 contract that takes effect Wednesday. That contract represents the final year of a three-year pact with the county.

Dispute over uniforms

This month, several employees said they no longer wore uniforms after a dry cleaner stormed into the company's office on Veterans Highway and confiscated them, saying his cleaning bills hadn't been paid in months. Metro Access has been deducting $6 from employees' paychecks every week to pay for laundering.

Metro Access President James McLary told The Sun three weeks ago that employees no longer had uniforms because they didn't want to wear them. Company officials also have defended the firm's performance.

County officials said they saw drivers wearing uniforms Friday.

Three-year contract

Metro Access' three-year contract, awarded in 1996, is up for renewal in July 1999. The company was paid $1,272,000 in the first two years.

Metro Access submitted the second-highest bid, but was the low bidder of the two companies the county deemed suitable for the job.

Metro Access won the contract from Yellow Transportation, which had transported patients since 1993.

Metro Access runs similar transport services in the Washington metropolitan region and in Indiana. The company lost a three-year contract with the state Department of Transportation for transporting patients in Baltimore in August 1997, five months after it was awarded. City officials said the program had "huge problems."

Anne Arundel County Health Department officials urge anyone with complaints or suggestions about the transport service to call them at 410-222-7152.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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