By JENN BOGDAN
ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 18, 2008)—The Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility/Paratransit service made 828,000 curb-to-curb trips for the disabled in fiscal year 2008, 100,000 more than the previous year.
But the administration said it lost $1 million last year trying to provide those services, much of it because some patients never showed up for their rides. Some of the problems stemmed from special services provided for kidney dialysis patients, they said.
At a Senate Committee meeting Tuesday, officials argued that "preferential procedures" for kidney dialysis patients, including a special hotline to book trips for those patients and an expedited application process for the transportation, should be eliminated.
"We understand the importance of this population's transportation needs," said Maryland Transit Administration Assistant Administrator Tony Brown. "But it costs $50 million to operate the program each year, and it needs to be made more efficient."
The Mobility/Paratransit service provides shuttle transportation for qualified disabled residents in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County. One-way fare for the service costs $1.85.
The no-show rate among all Mobility/Paratransit riders is 9.3 percent. Among kidney dialysis riders it's 13.8 percent.
Brown said the lack of accountability for missed rides among kidney dialysis patients could be solved by eliminating the ability for hospital workers to book rides for their patients. But Richard Reiches, a social worker who testified on behalf of the Maryland Patient Advocacy Group, said the use of a third-party coordinator for kidney dialysis patients is essential because of their weakened state after receiving treatment.
"The issue for me is not about special treatment but getting these people lifesaving treatment," said Reiches.
Maryland Transit Administration officials told the Senate committee that in addition to the wasted funds, they were also concerned about the special treatment kidney dialysis patients receive because it may not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act mandates equal treatment for all disabled persons.
Kidney dialysis patients using the Mobility/Paratransit service currently receive immediate certification to become registered riders. Other disabled riders have to wait about three weeks to have their applications approved.
But advocates argued that asking kidney dialysis patients to wait three weeks for approval could be detrimental to their health, since many might not be able to attend treatment sessions without the transportation.
"To take that away from these patients would be a death sentence," said Pearl Lewis, director of the Maryland Patient Advocacy Group, who is also a mother to two children with kidney failure.
Nancy Pineles, an attorney for the Maryland Disability Law Center, told the committee that the way to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act may be for the transit administration to provide other disabled riders the same services afforded to kidney dialysis patients.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.