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Lawsuit blames disappearance of disabled man on hospital

The family of the 76-year-old alleges he was left alone in the busy lobby of City of Angels in L.A.

September 18, 2008|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

A downtown Los Angeles hospital accused of recruiting homeless people and putting them through unnecessary procedures to collect millions in fraudulent Medi-Cal and Medicare payments is now under fire for the disappearance of a mentally disabled 76-year-old man in failing health.

Richard Steingard, a lawyer for City of Angels, said hospital officials were surprised by the allegations in a lawsuit filed by the family of Lawrence Garcia.

In the suit, filed Wednesday, Garcia's family said Lawrence Garcia was visiting his doctor and undergoing lab tests at the medical center as part of treatment for lymphoma.

When Garcia was done with the lab work, the suit says, medical center employees were supposed to take Garcia to his doctor's office, located within the center, or contact Garcia's driver to pick him up at the lab.

The suit says employees did call Garcia's driver, but then took Garcia to the crowded hospital lobby and left him alone.

"This is akin to leaving a 6-year-old," the suit said.

Steingard said Garcia was not an inpatient at the hospital at the time he disappeared, but was at the complex to be seen by a private physician.

In the week since Garcia's disappearance, the family's lawsuit alleges, the hospital has not tried to help find him.

"They do not consider it their responsibility," said James Morgan, a lawyer for Garcia's family.

He added that Garcia, who has been mentally disabled his entire life and has lived in a board-and-care facility for the last 11 years, is "completely incapable" of caring for himself.

"He can't count money. He can barely even speak. He wouldn't even be able to tell anybody his address or his phone number or even his name," Morgan said.

Steingard said he had not seen the lawsuit, but he disputed some of its contentions.

He said that hospital employees did assist in trying to find Garcia, including calling the police, and that the hospital "remains committed to doing all that is possible in ascertaining Mr. Garcia's whereabouts."

Last month, the U.S. attorney's office indicted City of Angels Chief Executive Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam in connection with an alleged plot to defraud Medicare and Medi-Cal.

Prosecutors allege that homeless people were recruited off the streets and taken to City of Angels and other hospitals where they underwent unnecessary tests and treatments -- including, in some cases, potentially harmful procedures. Prosecutors said the hospitals then billed federal and state agencies for their care.

The homeless people, who may or may not have needed medical care, allegedly received around $20 or $30 after completing their hospital stays of one to three days, according to court filings.

Sabaratnam has pleaded not guilty.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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