Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Metropolitan Planning Organization ignores recommendation for Medicaid patient transport

Medicaid patients in Pinellas County still will get to choose who drives them to appointments — at least for the next six months — after a county board decided Wednesday to ignore changes recommended by an advisory committee that Clearwater Yellow Cab officials called "tainted" by a conflict of interest.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization stopped short of agreeing with that assessment of the committee's work. However, the board acknowledged that two committee members with ties to Yellow Cab competitor United Taxi should not have participated in the discussion of who should receive a $3.6 million contract for Medicaid patient transport.

The advisory committee recommended giving the contract to Greater Pinellas Transportation Management Services, a private dispatch company whose vice president, Nick Cambas, is an investor in United Taxi. Also, United Taxi general manager Allen Weatherilt is a member of the advisory committee.

Weatherilt recused himself from voting on the issue during an April 19 meeting, as did Doug Towne, another committee member who does contract work for United Taxi, but both men lobbied for GPTMS during the discussion.

MPO board member Herb Polson, a St. Petersburg City Council member, said Weatherilt and Towne's participation in the discussion "cast a cloud" over the committee's recommendation of GPTMS, even though neither voted. Several other board members agreed with Polson.

"Once you declare a conflict of interest, you do not participate in the conversation. There should be no lobbying," Polson said.

David Sadowsky of the County Attorney's Office said Weatherilt and Towne were legally allowed to take part in the April 19 discussion as long they didn't vote.

"I believe, and I said it at the last meeting, and I'll say it now, that we've met the letter of the law," Sadowsky said.

It wasn't just the involvement of Weatherilt and Towne in the bid discussion that irked MPO board members, though.

Yellow Cab, the preferred choice by a majority of Medicaid patients calling for a ride under the current system, offered to perform the services for more than $1 million less per year than GPTMS.

MPO executive director Brian Smith explained to board members that cost was not part of the process of rating bidders because the Medicaid transport service has a set budget of $3.6 million in federal funds awarded to Pinellas annually based on a formula. That wasn't good enough for Polson.

"For the life of me, I don't understand why we didn't have a cost factor in the process," Polson said to a smattering of applause from Yellow Cab supporters in the audience who came to the meeting wearing yellow T-shirts that read "Award to Yellow, riders' choice, save $1,000,000."

GPTMS has served as dispatcher for the Medicaid transport service for roughly 15 years. When Medicaid patients call in for rides, GPTMS dispatchers offer a selection of transport companies, including Yellow Cab and United Taxi. Well over half of the riders choose Yellow Cab.

Changes at the state and federal level, and the fact that the program went in the red last year for the first time, led MPO staff to suggest a new system in which one company takes care of dispatch and chooses the transport company. Smith explained to the board members Wednesday the advantages of this system, like the possibility of shared rides that could save money.

Yellow Cab officials alleged that awarding the bid to GPTMS would lead to more business for United Taxi, a claim that GPTMS officials dismissed.

GPTMS vice president Cambas said after the meeting he didn't want to issue a "knee-jerk reaction" to the MPO board's decision not to award the $3.6 million job to his company. GPTMS will continue to act as dispatcher, with Yellow Cab an option for Medicaid patients.

"We've been providing this service for many years. We have no problem doing it for another six months," Cambas said.

The MPO board might issue a new request for proposal that could incorporate some of the concerns discussed Wednesday, members said, giving GPTMS and Yellow Cab another chance to vie for the job.

Metropolitan Planning Organization ignores recommendation for Medicaid patient transport 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 7:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Me too': Alyssa Milano urged assault victims to tweet in solidarity. The response was massive.

    Human Interest

    Actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

    Within hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing. By 3 a.m. Monday, almost 200,000 metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count.
  2. Tampa tax shelter schemer too fat for his prison term, attorney says


    TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced two Bay area men to prison terms last week for peddling an offshore tax shelter scheme that cost the IRS an estimated $10 million.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.

  3. Weinstein Co., overwhelmed by backlash, may be up for sale


    NEW YORK — The Weinstein Co., besieged by sexual harassment allegations against its namesake and co-founder, may be putting itself up for sale.

  4. Trial begins in 2014 death of 19-month-old Tampa girl


    TAMPA — Even before his trial officially began, Deandre Gilmore had planted his gaze on the floor of Judge Samantha Ward's courtroom Monday, taking a deep breath and shifting in his seat as a pool of 60 potential jurors learned of his charges.

  5. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe


    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]