A lot of factors had to come together for Buster Stackhouse and his wheelchair to be loaded into a Mercy Transportation van the other day for a trip to his monthly doctor's appointment...
A lot of factors had to come together for Buster Stackhouse and his wheelchair to be loaded into a Mercy Transportation van the other day for a trip to his monthly doctor’s appointment.
To an extent, different worlds had to converge for that to happen. Part of Stackhouse’s world has centered on cerebral palsy, which the 48-year-old has had since birth.
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The world of Mercy Transportation centers on its founder and owner, Mungid Saleh, who left Sudan the first time 22 years ago, arrived in Snohomish County seven years ago and now has 62 vehicles that transport people to medical appointments.
“I had $137 in my pocket when I arrived in New York,” Saleh recalled of his long journey from Sudan to the present. His company does about $1.4 million worth of business a year.
“He is a go-getter,” Denise Brand said of Saleh. She’s currently the case-management supervisor in the Snohomish County Human Services Department and helped Saleh get his business started in 1997.
Saleh’s arrival in Everett took some detours, including getting a master’s degree in petroleum engineering in Moscow and then returning to Sudan.
But Sudan’s civil war “was getting uglier and uglier,” he said. “I fled the country.”
He landed in New York in 1992 and received political asylum, then worked in a bluejeans factory and saved $15,000 to buy a coin-operated laundry. He later sold it for $65,000 and decided to move to Everett because a friend lived there.
At that point, Saleh didn’t know what he’d do, but he noticed a disabled neighbor had trouble getting around.
“She lived right next to us, and she always needed help,” he said.
That led to talks with the Human Services Department, then meeting the requirements to provide transportation services.
“He sure is a kind of motivated and inspired person,” Brand said. “He just had a lot of attention to detail, and that’s what it takes.”
“I started little by little,” said Saleh. “I bought three Chevy Caprices.”
Saleh put two cars into service, kept the third for a spare and began carrying people to medical appointments.
That’s one thing that separates Mercy from others who transport people: Though taxi companies and others carry Medicaid clients to medical appointments, they’ll also drop someone off at a mall or other destination. Mercy Transportation goes only to and from medical appointments.
The company’s first months were among the hardest, Saleh recalled, because it took 90 days to get his first payments and he had spent his capital, which forced him to rely for a while on credit-card advances.
“That made me survive,” he said.
Saleh operates through a statewide, $50 million-a-year program run by the Medical Assistance Administration of the Department of Social and Health Services. Its function is to provide nonemergency medical transportation for Medicaid clients.
Mercy Transportation operates from the second floor of a building at 6320 Evergreen Way, where Saleh and two dispatchers have offices. On a normal day, Mercy will carry 65 to 100 people.
Clients of Mercy or other medical carriers must have Medical Assistance Administration identification cards, have no other way to reach medical appointments and need services covered by Medicaid programs. There is no cost to them for the trips.
After deducting expenses that include about $10 an hour for drivers and $145,000 a year for insurance, Saleh gets to make a profit. The insurance — around $2 million worth of coverage for each vehicle — is a particular burden, he said.
Saleh, 42, said he might someday like to return to Sudan and practice petroleum engineering. But for now, he said, he’s trying to make Mercy more effective.
“I’m addicted to the transportation industry,” he said.
Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or firstname.lastname@example.org