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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Grievance Committee: Other Complaints & Retaliation (Part II)

The SVTA's Bill Steele denied all charges as Grievance Committee members, Alana McKay of AHCA and Disabled Representative Ralph Kitchens listened.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Wednesday, September 25th, the first Grievance Committee meeting of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority was held in Lake City. Numerous grievances were filed against the Transit Authority by Rider Representative LJ Johnson. Mr. Johnson, who is the Rider Representative on the local board, has taken an active and aggressive role in fighting what he believes are abuses by the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. His appointment as the Rider's Representative was actively opposed by the SVTA management, others, and according to sources, the long time Chair of the SVTA Board, Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams.

Local Transportation Disadvantaged Board member, LJ Johnson, filed numerous complaints against the SVTA that were ignored.

Among his other grievances, Mr. Johnson complained that the SVTA contacted his medical provider to change a scheduled medical appointment without his permission.

The record clearly indicated that this was done and that someone from the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority called the Shands Urology Department and canceled Mr. Johnson's appointment.

According to the paperwork, not only did Mr. Johnson file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights for a HIPPA violation, Shands also filed a similar complaint with the state.

SVTA's Steele doesn't understand complaint; denies charges

The SVTA's Steele said he didn't understand the complaint.

Mr. Steele said, "Suwannee Valley Transport did not call the hospital."

Mr. Steele said the SVTA has the right to call and change an appointment, unless it is an urgent appointment.

Both Commissioner Nash and Florida Medicaid's McKay said SVTA's Steele was misinterpreting the rules.

Chairman Nash said if the SVTA called the hospital on his care it was "way, way out there."

Ms. McKay said, "That's an incorrect interpretation of that."

Commissioner Nash added, "If you call a hospital on his care, that's way, way out there... That's a serious, serious deal."

Mr. Steele dug in, "I believe we're interpreting it correctly."

Then Mr. Steele admitted that the SVTA did call the hospital, "We called the hospital to say – is there other appointments he can take... we never in fact changed the appointment."

Mr. Steele, with ACHA's Florida Medicaid representative, Alana McKay sitting only a few feet away said, "We'll call the Medicaid Office."

Ms. McKay is a recognized Medicaid expert whose official title is, "Senior Human Services Program Specialist."

After Ms. McKay explained the process Mr. Steele still remained contentious.

Ms. McKay attempted to explain the process again.

Mr. Steele still did not get it. Ms. McKay told him he had to talk to the patient first.

Mr. Steele remained contentious.

Matt Pearson was not convinced that the SVTA did not call Shands.

Grievance Committee member, Matt Pearson, the transportation professional on the Grievance Committee, asked why the email from Shands stated that SVTA called to cancel an appointment if it didn't. The email further stated, "We placed a flag on his account so that we may only speak with him."

Mr. Steele said, "I don't know how she did that." Then Mr. Steele blamed Lynn Godfrey of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, although it was not clear for what he was blaming her.

Mr. Pearson asked Mr. Steele if he had something in writing from Shands saying it didn't happen.

Mr. Steele said, "No. No."

Mr. Pearson said, "All I can see is an e-mail from Elise Martin [Shands] stating that someone from Suwannee Valley Transit called to change [cancel] an appointment."

Mr. Johnson pointed out that the SVTA couldn't get its story straight.

A short recess and then trouble

After a short recess, Bill Steele got up and threw a letter down in front of Mr. Johnson which terminated his Medicaid nonemergency transportation services effective 15 days from September 25th.

Mr. Johnson had recently been recertified by Florida's DCF as Medicaid eligible.

Ms. McKay pointed that out to Mr. Steele that Mr. Johnson met the requirements for transportation as a Medicaid recipient.

It didn't make a difference. The SVTA did not withdraw the letter of termination.

It has also been charged that the SVTA violated HIPPA regulations when it included Mr. Johnson's Medicaid number in an e-mail.

Mr. Johnson was forced to have Medicaid determine if a violation had occurred and if so be given in a new Medicaid identification number.

Medicaid determined that Mr. Johnson did need to have his Medicaid ID replaced.

The SVTA Board, the same Board chaired by long time Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams that sat by as the SVTA went over $2,000,000 in debt, is going to decide if Mr. Johnson was retaliated against.


Mr. Johnson's attorney pointed out that it appeared that Mr. Johnson's actions in bringing to light the abuses of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority were tantamount to those of a whistleblower and that it seemed as if Mr. Johnson was being retaliated against for exposing the abuses of the Transit Authority.

Mr. Johnson, the Local Transportation Disadvantaged Board Rider Representative was even criticized for advising fellow riders how to make a complaint against the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority if they were unhappy with the service.

AHCA and the Commission for the Disadvantaged have fielded numerous complaints against the SVTA.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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