MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Medical transportation rides provided by TennCare contractors could violate federal law, a WREG Problem Solvers investigation found.

State records obtained by the Problem Solvers showed Tennessee pays for more than 1.5 million non-emergency medical transportation rides every year as part of contracts worth about $60 billion.

Tangie Danner contacted the Problem Solvers after having issues with her rides.

Danner has injuries resulting from a 2012 car crash that necessitates she use a wheelchair for most activities.

“I have doctor appointments two or three times out of the week,” she said. “They’re either late picking you up, late getting you to the doctor’s office.”

She said she has also had instances where she booked a ride that never showed.

Cheryl Dare also contacted the Problem Solvers. She feels pain every day and needs help walking as a result of her diagnosis of spinal stenosis.

The WREG Problem Solvers

“I was hoping you might try to get something done about it,” Dare said. “So far they’ve sent a chairlift once out of at least two years of using transport. There are minivans that have ramps but I have not gotten one so far.”

Beverly Taylor, an on-site assistant at Dare’s apartment building, said she witnessed issues with the non-emergency medical transportation providers every day.

“The residents have to wait for hours. They miss their appointments a lot of time,” Taylor said.

The issues might constitute a violation of contractors’ agreements with TennCare as well as federal law, according to Brice Timmons, a civil rights attorney who focuses on cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It sounds like they’re putting [Dare] in a painful and risky situation,” Timmons said. “It’s incumbent on the government and their contractors to make these vehicles ADA compliant.”

WREG asked TennCare officials to do an interview. They rejected our request and offered to answer questions over email, saying “trips are required to provide transportation that meets the needs of the individual member” and that they use complaints and self-reporting to monitor contractors.

However, for-profit contractors can’t be trusted to self-report, according to Bobbie Fields, transition-to-community specialist with the Memphis Center for Independent Living.

In addition, riders are unlikely to make complaints, she said.

“A lot of these incidents go unreported because of fear of retaliation,” Fields said. “There’s always that fear if I complain they’re not going to help me or serve me.”

Records obtained through an open record request from TennCare showed complaints increasing each year; they made up 0.04 percent of the rides in 2020 and 0.06 percent in 2021.

Fields recommended increased oversight.

“Closer monitoring by the state, to be a little more diligent to make sure they are doing the job their company was hired to do,” Fields said.

Dare and Danner, two desperate riders, asked for anything that helps.

“Please, when I ask for a wheelchair lift, send a wheelchair lift,” Dare said.

In fact, the day we met Danner, we waited with her for a ride to a doctor’s appointment. We thought a van had arrived to take her on time, but after backing up toward her driveway, it drove away without explanation.

A van arrived at Danner’s house, but then drove away without explanation. Another arrived two hours later.

We eventually figured out her ride had been double booked.

WREG spoke with TennCare officials about this story over the course of three months of reporting. They released this statement:

“We are always working on ways to improve. We are getting ready to launch some training videos for the NEMT providers and how-to videos for members using the service.  We are also piloting the usage of Lyft and Uber that could help with last-minute ride requests.

And, while I cannot confirm that this person is a member without a release, we will look into any case of people not receiving a vehicle that meets their needs.”

Got a problem? Contact WREG Problem Solver Stacy Jacobson at 901-543-2334 or stacy.jacobson@wreg.com