by John R. Fischer
, Senior Reporter | September 14, 2023
According to a confidential federal report, employees at the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System, in California, mismanaged more than $1 million in patient transportation funding through illegal “handshake” agreements with ambulance and other transport companies.
VA Loma Linda is made up of the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans' Hospital and eight ambulatory care centers that altogether serve over 76,000 veterans.
Between October 2019 and May 2022, employees with the Veterans Transportation Services unit there and the Transfer Center approved vendor invoices without reviewing them and made unauthorized payments for transport services that VA Loma Linda was responsible for or that were outside of the transport companies’ contract parameters, reported Redlands Daily Facts, of the Southern California News Group
An employee told the health system in April 2021 that the transportation program was ignoring requirements to reduce bed occupancy and improve wait-time metrics. This led to an investigation by a VA three-member, fact-finding team, who wrote the report and later turned the case over to the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Among their illicit activities were "irresponsible billing/payment oversight, inappropriate information sharing, potential kickbacks to VA employees from vendors, illegal contractual relationships, and potential disallowed staff/vendor relationships,” said the report, which listed personal gain as a potential reason.
One employee, mobility manager Louis Garcia paid wheelchair van company Journey $170,000 to $180,000 every two weeks for unreviewed and nonitemized invoices and additional charges for outside parameter pickups. In over four months, Journey billed VA Loma Linda $1.1 million for rides, with only $500,565 of the charges deemed payable. When confronted, Garcia said no one completed any audits, and pretended to not know what he was doing, and asked for training.
The Transfer Center also approved $250,000 to $300,000 payments per month without approval from VA Loma Linda’s mobility management staff, and allowed patients to schedule rides with ambulance companies directly. VA Loma Linda Medical Director Karandeep Sraon gave the Transfer Center staff permission to approve interfacility care transportation, despite this being the mobility manager’s responsibility.