“The sun in the Valley is incredibly hot,” Wisner stressed. “Very high humidity during those summer months.” A large indoor space for evaluations was important so they could be more efficient in their evaluation process.
“To make the facility and the process make sense, this evaluation will help us make really accurate decisions. There’s no question it’s the way to go,” Wisner said. “Once we make a person eligible, we want to try and find the conditions for alternatives, not just relying on paratransit services.”
On behalf of the region, Valley Metro manages the East and Nortwest Valley Paratransit Operations, ADA certification for the Valley and customer service for the Valley. Of the new facility, Wisner said now, “We kind of have a one-stop shop for service related to disability and seniors.”
The certification process used to be done through a paper process. Customers would mail in a 6-page application they fill out, Valley Metro staff would mail the forms to the healthcare providers asking the doctor to complete them, stating how the disability impacted the person’s ability to navigate the fixed-route system independently. “We had to go by what the doctor wrote up and then we would make a determination based on if we got it,” Wisner said.
“They have a 21-day window to fill in and return the application so lots of times we wouldn’t get the application back in time of the window,” Wisner said. “So we would have to give presumptive eligibility, which means you’re giving someone eligibility that might not be eligible.” He added, “All cities have that problem that have to do that process. Timeliness, accuracy, bias because the doctor knows them – part of the push nationally is moving away from paper process to an in-person process.”
They did a study to look at their certification process and it took about two years to get a model developed, Wisner said, to get a model developed, figure out the mixture of in-person interviews, testing, do research on a facility, find a location and then implement the new process. He said it was important to make sure they had a thorough and fair, consistent process to make an evaluation.
Valley Metro hired a contractor, C.A.R.E. evaluators, that had experience operating in-person assessments to manage that part of the process. The customer now calls the call center to inquire, they are told the process, they are sent an application, when they get the application and are ready, they call and set up the in-person appointment. “Once that call comes through,” Wisner said, “that goes to our contractor who sets up the appointment. And then they make arrangements for transportation. The contractor takes it from that point.”
The customer comes to the Mobility Center, goes through the evaluation and leaves. The contractor goes through the final report based on their observations then they send the final report to Valley Metro with a recommendation. “We review it, our staff that used to do the paper process,” Wisner said. “They make that final quality assurance check and then send out the letter.
“If we don’t agree with the assessment we go back with the evaluator and come to an agreement on the total evaluation before we send either a denial or an approval,” he said. The letter comes from Valley Metro saying whether or not the customer is certified or not certified and the reasons. “If they’re not approved, they’re able to appeal,” he explained. “We have a review panel that meets once a month to review the cases and the customers are allowed to come in or phone in and a final decision is made.”
On a typical day they will have 20 to 25 people a day that come in. Wisner said they over schedule, about 30 a day. There are two evaluators and an evaluation takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. The determination is made fairly quickly. The evaluators wrap up their day between 3:30 and 4:00 and then they fill out all the paperwork that same day or the next day.
“Some people self-certify out,” Wisner said. “They see there’s an in-person process and they’re either afraid of that or they realize they really don’t qualify so they’re not going to go through the problem or hassle of trying to get certified.”