Local health care and disabilities advocates denounce state contractor

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sandy Pace voices her concerns with Syncare during a SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence, commonly referred to as SADI, news conference Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Sandy Pace always told herself she could take care of her disabled husband by herself. Earlier this year, however, she gave in.

Pace needed help.

The Scott City resident decided she would try to find an in-home health provider. She was told she needed to contact SynCare to have her husband assessed to see if he qualified.

As she described it Tuesday, it was a disaster.

Pace was put on hold for hours during calls and once her call was routed to Nebraska. After months of waiting, the only news she has received is that their case is pending.

"If you take care of someone who is disabled, you do not have three hours to sit on the phone," Pace said. "This has been ridiculous from the start."

Pace was one of more than 50 patients, home health care providers and advocates who gathered at the offices of the SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence to share SynCare horror stories.

And they want SynCare fired. Some traveled from as far as Poplar Bluff, Kennett, Hayti and Festus to voice their displeasure with a company that has been awarded a state contract valued at about $5.5 million.

The coalition gathered signatures for a letter to send to Gov. Jay Nixon and the state's Department of Health and Human Services asking that the contract be terminated.

"It's been a fiasco -- a train wreck," said Donna Thompson, SADI's director of personal services.

SynCare began the job in May to provide services for senior citizens and the disabled, such as bathing, cooking, light housekeeping and grooming. Those who gathered at the news conference Tuesday -- and four others like it across the state -- groused that the company has botched the job from the start.

Clients and providers spoke of misplaced paperwork, insufficient staffing, rude workers, missed appointments and other problems that they say have delayed service for many of the state's 50,000 Medicaid recipients.

Donna Skelton of Perryville said SynCare messed up the assessment of her 79-year-old mother. Her mother doesn't want to go to a nursing home, but she needs some help to avoid one.

SynCare initially called her mother and disoriented her with pointed questions, Skelton said. Her mother was initially denied care because she told the SynCare worker she could cook. But Skelton said the questions weren't probing enough.

"She can cook, but that doesn't mean her meals are nutritious or that the house isn't going to catch fire because she's doing something inappropriate," Skelton said. "Then she goes into the hospital next week for a different issue and then SynCare said she was qualified. Nothing had changed in a week but their answer. It was the same old runaround."

Missouri lawmakers approved the hiring of the company to perform the evaluations and screenings after legislators said there was a conflict of interest in having home-health providers determine eligibility for services they would then perform.

"A 'fox in the henhouse' thing was their perspective, I guess," said Teresa McCulloch, CEO of Southeast Missouri Visiting Nurses Association.

But that way was far superior to the way things are now, said McCulloch, who is also on the boards of several health-care trade associations.

"It was wonderful," she said. "Everybody was happy and nobody was lining their pockets."

Following the conference, Thompson said she hopes they can make a difference. "Just one person calling their legislator will help," she said. "If everybody acts on that, maybe we can make a difference here and get this third-party assessor out of Missouri."

Representatives of SynCare did not return phone calls Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

1913 Rusmar St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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