How do I know that God’s got my back?
The first and biggest confirmation of this came about three years after I was diagnosed with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, which is a rare form of kidney damage that is caused by bad doctors prescribing lithium and not monitoring it. Jenifer Rich was my doctor and she kept me taking lithium for seven years, despite clear signs that I was suffering from damage. She was incompetent and didn’t recognize the signs.
After I was diagnosed, three different doctors volunteered the fact that she was incompetent and had damaged many patients, but here’s the thing: Dr. Jenifer Rich had a terrific bedside manner. She was so incredibly comforting while she poisoned you. After I found out what she’d done to me, I went back three times to try to get Rich to properly monitor her other patients on lithium. She denied all responsibility for my illness.
Then she died, suddenly and unexpectedly, at home alone. On my birthday.
I do not presume to think that I, alone, was important enough for God to kill off Dr. Jenifer Rich but I do believe that God took her, and that he did it on my birthday to send me a clear message that what I couldn’t do, he could—and would—take care of. I mean, seriously, with 365 days to choose from, do you think it was a coincidence?
Meanwhile, back to Centro’s Call-a-Bus: the director of advocacy at ARISE arranged a conference call with an attorney at the Office of Civil Rights at the Federal Transit Administration. She had had his number for a year and had not followed up with him, while every month we sat with Linda McKeown, filed complaints and got nowhere. Now we were getting somewhere.
When a disabled person applied for Call-a-Bus, it could take up to six months to get a reply. In fact, the law requires that CAB reply in 21 days. If CAB fails to do so, then the person gets to ride until a decision is reached.
It would sometimes take fifteen minutes of dialing the phone to break through to CAB. These weren’t just simple busy signals—it was a recording that the trunk line was inaccessible. CAB had about four thousand riders but didn’t have enough telephone lines to handle the load. This is called “a capacity constraint” and is a violation of federal regulations.
CAB call-takers were trained to schedule Call-a-Bus rides one hour plus-or-minus the line bus schedule, that is, if you lived in a suburb that only got line buses four times a day, then a disabled person only could get a ride around those four times. In fact, federal regulations said that CAB rides were to be scheduled one hour plus-or-minus the rider’s requested time, not the line bus scheduled times. And rides were supposed to be available from the first line bus on the run in the morning until the last line bus out at night, in other words, all day. We could ride any time that able people could ride.
Under federal regulations, CAB has to negotiate times of rides. They could not—as they had with me—simply say that it was take-it-or-leave-it. Riders actually had rights. Wow, there’s a concept wholly unknown to Linda McKeown and her bullies. (CAB had a call-taker who identified herself as Margie. Never having met the woman, and not being accustomed to using a diminutive to address a complete stranger, one day I called her Marjory. She bawled me out. This was the level at which McKeown’s CAB employees acted while performing “customer service.”) Linda McKeown and her call-takers were the boss of us and gave us no rights. We were cargo to be trucked at the trucker’s convenience, not citizens with the right to travel freely through the community.
CAB was repeatedly telling riders that their requested rides could not be accommodated because they didn’t have enough buses. This was another capacity constraint. Federal regulations require the paratransit company to buy enough buses. African-American people were told they had to ride in the back of the bus; people with disabilities were told there were no buses. On weekends, CAB left the buses sitting in the parking lot and left us sitting at home without any social activities. Federal regs require service to be fully available seven days a week.
About that problem where a rider only could get the time of their scheduled ride from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.? Again, totally wrong. Call-A-Bus was supposed to confirm rides at the time the ride order was placed. They were supposed to be confirming rides during all administrative office hours, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
CAB was putting people on the bus and keeping them there for long periods of time. This enabled CAB to use fewer buses to serve more people. Two of my neighbors went to a meeting at ARISE, which was a distance of 4.6 miles and took twelve minutes. They were kept on the bus for two hours. The FTA calls this “an excessively long trip.” In Syracuse, the reasonable standard would be no more than one hour.
CAB would tell riders that they would take us to a requested destination but would not bring us back. Honest to God. They would tell us that they didn’t have enough buses to bring us home. What kind of moron schedules a one-way trip for a person in a wheelchair? The CAB morons. What I learned on the conference call was that if the rider placed an order for a round-trip and CAB only scheduled it one-way, then it counted as two denials against Call-A-Bus. If CAB denied more than five trips to all riders in one month, then CAB was in violation of FTA regulations.
When a rider tried to file a complaint against Call-a-Bus then the complaint was taken by Call-a-Bus—and Linda McKeown was burying the complaints. Peter Cahan, one of my colleagues, had gotten a copy of a government report McKeown had filed in which she claimed zero complaints. Four thousand people were swirling in this sordid little cesspool where Linda McKeown had absolute power. The fact was that CENTRO/CAB legally had to keep complaints from riders on file for one year, and a record of complaints for five years. These complaints had to be available to the Federal Transit Administration upon request.