Originally created 08/12/97

Aging councils file protest over transportation contracts



AIKEN - Several non-profit councils on aging, including the Aiken County agency, have filed a second appeal to protest how the state awarded Medicaid transportation contracts.

The councils lost their first appeal following a three-day hearing in July before South Carolina's chief procurement officer. The next step, filed Friday, is an appeal to the state procurement review panel. No hearing date has been set.

In June, councils in Aiken, Edgefield and Barnwell counties were among those who complained that they lost their Medicaid bus contracts due to an unfair method of awarding them. Spartanburg Regional Health Care Systems and Transportation Management Services Inc., a company in Fairfax, Va., also appealed.

Directors of the councils on aging said the loss of the contracts could mean cutbacks in services, increased fees for remaining services and possible job layoffs.

As a result of the appeals, all awarded contracts are now suspended. In the interim, agencies with existing contracts were asked to continue providing non-emergency bus service to Medicaid clients, but at whatever price was given by the low bidder. The contracts were extended through June 30 or until the appeals are settled.

The Council on Aging in Aiken is now operating the service at a loss, said interim director George Alexander. Under the protested bidding process, the council lost its bus contract to Transportation Management, which underbid the agency by two cents per passenger mile.

Belt-tightening is under way to maintain the current level of services and to keep from handing out pink slips to staff, he said.

"We're starting to identify any costs we can eliminate to make us more efficient and without affecting our delivery of services," he said.

Attorney Elizabeth Crum, who represents the councils on aging, argued before the state procurement officer that the awarded contracts were illegal. Some were handed out to companies like Transportation Management that, unlike the councils on aging, didn't comply with a 1996 state transportation law, Ms. Crum said.

The law requires that anyone receiving money must participate in cooperative efforts to develop regional or multicounty transportation plans, and provide financial reports as proof of those efforts, she said.

In his July 31 ruling, the procurement officer noted the protesters raised issues related to compliance with Medicaid guidelines, the policy manual and state law. But the appeal was filed late, making it impossible for him to rule on some issues.

The bids were requested in April and opened May 22. The contracts were awarded June 13, with the councils on aging sending a protest letter June 27.

Not filing the protests sooner made it impossible for the procurement officer to rule on certain issues, the order states.