CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County is demanding more changes from a medical transport company after CBS 2 exposed that they were withholding tens of thousands of dollars from drivers they contracted.
We’ve now obtained First Transit‘s $6 million contract with the county, and as Morning Insider Tim McNicholas reports, it raises serious questions about why they didn’t pay up.
Monique McKnight almost gave up on her business. Almost.
“I was crying. I was in tears. I had to pick up two other jobs to survive,” she said.
Her McKnight Transportation Company drives Medicaid recipients to the doctor for chemotherapy, dialysis, and other non-emergency appointments.
She made plans to dissolve her business this year, because a much bigger company – First Transit – hadn’t paid her for more than $20,000 worth of rides from July to November.
“Most of my close friends and family, they know. They know I’ve been struggling, and I’ve been taking odd jobs. Nobody expected a Christmas gift,” she said.
McKnight first reached out to CBS 2 after seeing our stories on other First Transit contractors in similar disputes, including Gwendolyn Carrington-Smith.
First Transit finally paid her more than $20,000 after our story on the problems.
“Yeah, it’s a good day. I really appreciate it,” Carrington-Smith said at the conclusion of our last story.
Within days of that story airing, First Transit agreed to a Zoom meeting with McKnight, but declined her request to have CBS 2 sit in and listen.
“Then, all the sudden, after speaking with you and your team, and they knew, in January I got a huge lump sum,” McKnight said.
McKnight was paid $21,000 she was owed. She said First Transit still owes her a few thousand dollars, but that payment is enough to keep her business alive.
“You have all these companies that are trying to survive working for you. Why wouldn’t you pay us?” she said.
This week, we obtained First Transit’s $6 million contract with the county to run the service. It says First Transit should allow electronic billing options for providers like McKnight, but the company told McKnight the reason she wasn’t getting paid is because she only billed online and didn’t mail or fax her paperwork.
“It makes me feel like somebody somewhere dropped the ball, and played with me as a company, and played with me personally,” McKnight said.
Carrington-Smith was also told she wasn’t paid because she’d only billed online, but the contract doesn’t say anything about faxing or mailing paperwork. It says First Transit should allow claims to be submitted electronically.
“This is money that I worked for,” Carrington-Smith said.
First Transit even told some providers they can’t pay them because 30 days had passed since the ride.
After our stories, the company emailed providers saying “the timeline to submit claims has been temporarily extended from 30 days to 90 days.”
Cook County said they required that change, and they plan to increase it to 180 days permanently.
But McKnight said she’s worried the problems could happen again. If they do, she’s going straight to Cook County with her complaints.
CBS 2 has learned a couple providers have already complained to the county since our stories aired. The county said they are now working on a corrective action plan for First Transit. No word on whether that may include fines or penalties.
First Transit didn’t get back to us for this story. In the past they sent us vague statements and refused to answer our questions.
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