Go Wake transportation service leaves some elderly, disabled medical patients waiting for hours

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Every once in a while when Cameron Hicks leaves her medical office, she finds a patient who had an appointment hours ago, waiting outside for a ride.

"We've ended up having to take them home ourselves. Because literally, nobody will come. One of the patients was out here until 7 p.m. Our building closes around five o'clock," she remembered.

Hicks works at the UNC Rex Medical Plaza as a medical office assistant. She said the patients are waiting on the GoWake Access Transportation service. Hicks said that about four times during the past six months, the service has left patients waiting around for hours.

"One patient, she had to reschedule her entire appointment because they were late picking her up to bring her to her appointment. And then they left her here for good seven or eight, yeah, probably seven hours," Hicks said.

GoWake Access is an on-demand shared ride service that offers transportation to residents who are elderly, disabled, on Medicaid or live in rural areas. Unlike a bus, the shuttles pick up residents right from their homes and drop them off at their arranged locations, mainly medical appointments.

"It makes me very angry and heartbroken for them. I mean, they're relying on this service to take them to and from, I mean, there's people who don't even keep up with their health sometimes. So the fact that they are still trying to keep up with it and, you know, make their appointments and it's their independence really," Hicks said.

She said when she has tried to call the service to assist the patients she gets many excuses and most of the time, the buses still don't show up.

"I just think it's really unacceptable that you have people out there at appointments all day long. I mean, nobody really wants to stay all day at a doctor's appointment and to be told the same thing every 15 minutes that you're on the way but nobody shows up. I don't think that's okay," Hicks said.

Wake County is aware of some delays in service and calls the incidents Hicks described as "terrible."

"If we're extremely late ... nobody should have to accept that. What we really would like our clients to do is log the complaints as soon as possible so that we can address them," said Annemarie Maiorano, the Wake County Health Department deputy director.

The county has received around 194 complaints this year. A fourth of the tickets the county processed involved complaints related to lateness. Another 12% were about the vendor not showing up.

Around 600 people use the service a day and already nearly 30,000 trips have been completed in 2022. So the complaints make up just 1% of all the trips completed this year.

"So complaints due to lateness or any other matter that somebody might complain about are not the norm for our program. In fact, they're a very small percentage but I just want you to know that they're still not okay even one complaint is not okay because that means one of our clients has had some difficulty and we don't want that," Maiorano said.

However, county data shows the service is performing fewer trips in a timely manner. Seventy-four percent of trips this year have met overall time performance standards; this is a 14% decrease since last year when 86% of trips met the standard.

"It is the result of having fewer drivers be able to do the trips because if we don't get the vans on the road, then fewer drivers have to do more trips. So the result is the less efficient," Maiorano said.

Maiorano said the county is also down about 18 drivers. To fill these positions, the county increased wages. Seven more vans will be added to the service during the next 60 days after the county secures a second provider. The second vendor will be able to service around 100 more people a day.

Demand for service has increased by 14% during the last few months.

The county also points to more than 300 riders a month not showing up for their rides, which contributes to on-time performance.

The vendor that the county currently works with is financially punished if on-time performance is less than 86.9%. The provider has paid the county $30,000 for failing to meet standards in January and February. The provider will likely be charged another $15,000 for performance in March.

The county encourages any riders who experience issues to call (919) 212-7155 Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Riders can also call (919) 212-7005, press option 4, and leave their complaint and someone will get back to them. Complaints can also be filed online at WakeGov.com/GoWake.
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