Medical transport service under federal investigation, dialysis patients left without rides

People who relied on transportation from Empowerment found themselves without rides to dialysis treatment. Owner Wanda Shorter was recently indicted on counts of health care fraud and identity theft.

Posted on April 2, 2014 at 2:12 p.m.

ELKHART – An Elkhart medical transportation company is under investigation for health care fraud, leaving dozens of dialysis patients without rides to their crucial medical appointments.

Early Wednesday, April 2, 27 patients who relied on Empowerment Non-Emergency Medical Transportation were never picked up for their scheduled rides to dialysis treatment, according to a press release from the Council on Aging of Elkhart County. The council received an “urgent” phone call from Nephrology Elkhart asking for ride assistance.

Those patients' rides never showed up because Empowerment has been sanctioned by Medicaid, according to Tammy Friesen, executive director at the council.

Federal electronic court documents show that Empowerment owner Wanda Shorter was indicted March 12, 2014, with one count of health care fraud and forfeiture and three counts of aggravated identity theft and aiding and abetting.

Among other details, the indictment states that Shorter submitted reimbursement documents to Indiana Medicaid for transportation services that were cancelled or had never been provided.

The indictment also states that Shorter submitted claims for reimbursement to Indiana Medicaid for “inflated medical transportation mileage claims.”

Shorter also committed health care fraud using the identification of another person “without lawful authority,” according to the indictment, which identifies Shorter as the sole owner of Empowerment.

Shorter declined to comment publicly on the situation.

About six months ago, the Council on Aging reported complaints they’d received from their clients about Empowerment to Indiana Medicaid, according to Friesen. The council was later interviewed by the attorney general's office about those complaints.

“We don’t know a whole lot about [Empowerment], but we do know that they were billing Medicaid inappropriately,” Friesen said.

The Council on Aging is one of the few other businesses in Elkhart County that provides non-emergency transportation services to Medicaid patients, usually ones who are elderly or disabled.

Now, they’re scrambling to add Empowerment’s displaced customers to their already overfilled transportation schedule. Friesen said they provide people on Medicaid with more than 1,000 trips a month with just four vehicles.

People use their service to get places they couldn’t otherwise go, like the doctor’s office, the bank or to see their spouses at nursing care facilities.

They do their best to take everybody where they need to go, “but for right now, it’s outside its capacity,” Friesen said.

Angela Butler, owner of JRS Junior Non Medical Transportation in Elkhart, contacted The Elkhart Truth after she heard about what happened to Empowerment's clients. She wants people to know that her business provides rides to dialysis patients on Medicaid.

“That’s very important that they get to their dialysis, that’s a life or death situation,” Butler said.

For Medicaid patients, the business offers round-trip rides within a 20-mile radius for $1, rides within a 50-mile radius for $2 and rides over 50 miles for $10. Children ride free.

Dialysis patients in need of rides to their appointments, or anyone else in need of transportation, can call the business at 830-5742.

The Elkhart Truth will continue to follow up with this story as more information is available.


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