L.A. lawsuit accuses Atlanta-based LogistiCare of putting patients in peril

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This van, part of a fleet of paratransit vehicles overseen by state contractor LogistiCare, is more than a decade old and has more than 450,000 miles on its odometer. It is owned by Sandersville-based Waco Med Travel. SPECIAL

This van owned by a middle Georgia company is part of a fleet of medical transport vehicles overseen by LogistiCare. It is more than a decade old and has clocked more than 450,000 miles. SPECIAL

A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles blasts the way Atlanta-based LogistiCare handles medical transportation for millions of Medicaid patients in the nation’s most populous county.

The complaint describes sickly patients waiting for hours to be picked up for medical appointments. It says subcontracting van companies, which do the actual driving, do the work for cheap using inadequate vehicles. It cites a patient being injured because she wasn’t properly secured in a moving vehicle, and another injury from a wheelchair spill outside a patient’s home.

Meanwhile, the complaint says, health plans that contract with LogistiCare “look the other way.”

“The story with LogistiCare is consistent across the United States,” said attorney Toni Vargas, who is handling the lawsuit for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, a public interest law firm. “Lateness. Injuries. Those are consistent in every single state. It’s a business model that’s flawed.”

An AJC investigation in November detailed problems with Georgia transportation companies that contracted with LogistiCare to drive Medicaid patients to medical appointments.

In a written statement, LogistiCare denied the California allegations and cautioned against drawing parallels to its work in Georgia.

“The regulatory environments, contracts and transportation networks, among other aspects, are entirely different,” the statement says. “Any attempt to connect the two would be grossly misleading.”

Richard Behrmann breaks down in tears as he talks about his wife, Cindi, who died in May after falling off a wheelchair lift outside her doctor’s office in Conyers. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The AJC investigation found a pattern of avoidable injuries, frequently connected to passengers not being properly strapped in or not properly assisted while entering or exiting vehicles.

The AJC also found that the agency overseeing the program, the state Department of Community Health, appears to have done little to address injuries or to improve patient safety.

Read more about the AJC’s investigation by clicking here, here and here.

The L.A. lawsuit also names as defendants two heath care plans that contract with LogistiCare and four transport companies accused of operating without permits. It lists six patients as plaintiffs – two amputees, two diabetics, a stroke victim and a brain injury victim.

The suit says the company hires local companies that cut costs by using untrained drivers and inadequate vehicles.

David James, who used LogistiCare when he lived in Clayton County, told the AJC he once waited more than six hours for a ride home from dialysis. JOHNNY EDWARDS / JREDWARDS@AJC.COM

Neighborhood Legal Services originally filed the complaint in June, but voluntarily dismissed it in August. Vargas said the federal case schedule was moving too quickly, and she wanted to add more plaintiffs, defendants and co-counsel. She re-filed in mid-November in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

LogistiCare, though, says the group dismissed the case because its allegations were “either completely false or misleading,” and the company had brought that to the court’s attention. In the prior case, LogistiCare countered that the plaintiffs failed to show how LogistiCare caused the cited problems as opposed to its subcontractors.

“The NLSLA’s latest allegations are yet another attempt to interfere with and defame the company’s services in Los Angeles County where we annually provide nearly 3 million trips to members, 99.8 percent of which are complaint-free,” the company statement said. “Now, after months of indecision and delay, NLSLA appears to be attempting to reanimate its earlier, dismissed lawsuit by seeking funds from third parties to help them finance these specious claims.

“NLSLA should know well,” the company said, “that any such attempt will be met with a strong and vigorous response.”

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