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Lawsuit blames transport giant LogistiCare for missed appointments and injuries suffered by Medi-Cal patients

Los Angeles County Medi-Cal patients missed dialysis treatments, suffered injuries when their wheelchairs or scooters weren’t secured in vans and endured yelling and insults by drivers paid to take them to medical appointments, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County filed the suit in L.A. County Superior Court against LogistiCare, the Atlanta-based company providing the rides.

Toni Vargas, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said that she has received complaints about LogistiCare since 2014, but that the company has not made improvements. “That simple disregard is just the [hallmark] of LogistiCare,” she said in an interview.

Medi-Cal, the state’s healthcare program for low-income residents, guarantees rides to medical appointments for patients whose conditions prevent them from traveling by bus or car. Dialysis patients are often tired and nauseous after treatment and can’t operate cars.

The transportation is frequently arranged through LogistiCare, which is one of the biggest providers of non-emergency medical transportation in the country. The firm doesn’t employ drivers directly; it contracts with vendors who provide the rides. LogistiCare coordinates 65 million rides annually in 39 states and Washington, D.C., according to its website.

Jody Gonzalez, general manager of LogistiCare California, said company officials could not comment on pending legal matters, or on individual complaints because of federal patient privacy laws.

“In Los Angeles County we provide 2.7 million trips each year and 99.8% are complaint-free. Because our goal is 100% success, we investigate every complaint and work quickly and earnestly to correct any issues,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

Gonzalez also pointed out that because of the huge number of rides managed by LogistiCare, even a small percentage not going as planned could mean thousands of service issues each year.

Medi-Cal has about 13.5 million participants, including 4 million in L.A. County, according to state figures. It was not clear how many Medi-Cal patients rely on LogistiCare to get to treatments.

Adam Weintraub, spokesman for the state’s Department of Health Care Services, which runs Medi-Cal, said department officials would not comment on the pending litigation.

Complaints have surfaced against LogistiCare in other states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Rose Ratcliff, a plaintiff in the L.A. County suit, said she needs dialysis three times a week because diabetes made her kidneys stop working.

“If you miss your appointments, you die. That machine becomes a part of you,” Ratcliff, 59, said in an interview.

She said she has often missed her four-hour appointments because vans pick her up late from her home in Van Nuys. Once, she said, a driver did not strap down the motorized scooter she uses to get around.

“I was trying to tell him, ‘Hey, I’m not locked down,’ and he kept cursing me,” Ratcliff said. She said that moving around in the vehicle damaged her scooter and left her with bruises and scrapes.

Other plaintiffs, including wheelchair users, made similar allegations.

The suit alleges that some patients have ended up in the emergency room because of shortness of breath or fluid build-up after their rides showed up late, causing them to miss some of their dialysis treatment.

Most Medi-Cal patients are part of managed-care plans, which contract directly with LogistiCare to provide transportation. The lawsuit mentions three such L.A. County plans: Health Net, Anthem Blue Cross and L.A. Care Health Plan.

Representatives of Anthem and Health Net said they would not comment on pending litigation.

Hector Andrade, spokesman for L.A. Care, said that about 10,000 of the plan’s 1 million members utilize LogistiCare each month.

“We are committed to providing high-quality care to all our members and are continuously looking for ways to make improvements,” Andrade said, adding that the plan would watch closely how the lawsuit unfolds.

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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