'Care-by-Phone' Meds Denied to Paraplegic Folks, Suit Claims
6-28-2019 20:06:00

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CN) – A Kaiser policy denies fair and equal access to prescriptions on its “care-by-phone” line to those using a wheelchair, according to a suit filed in San Diego County Superior Court.

Mary Rios sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. for violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal Rehabilitation Act, and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Mary Rios is impaired due to paraplegia, and cannot stand or walk. She uses a wheelchair for mobility, according to the action. 

On Dec. 4, 2018, Rios was experiencing symptoms of a urinary tract infection and went to defendant Kaiser’s urgent care department, only to find the wait was two to three hours to be seen. The staff suggested, since Rios has a history of such infections, that she call the “care-by-phone” line to request a prescription, the suit states.

Rios says she called the line, and the person she spoke with “appeared prepared to assist her in obtaining a prescription,” but when he learned she uses a wheelchair, he refused to help her, the complaint claims. 

Rios called the line again, and spoke with a different person, who confirmed that it was Kaiser’s policy to not provide prescriptions via the care-by-phone line to those who use a wheelchair. When Rios questioned the policy, she was handed off to a charge nurse who again confirmed the policy to not provide prescriptions via the care-by-phone line to “any individual who is ‘paralyzed’ or ‘uses a wheelchair,’” the action alleges.

Consequently, Rios was forced to wait over two hours to see a nurse, who questioned her but did not examine her, and who finally gave her the prescription, the suit states.

The ADA states that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation,” which includes the “professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment,” according to the action.

The federal Rehabilitation Act states that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” such as defendant Kaiser, which receives federal financial assistance “in the form of Medicaid and Medicare payments,” the suit states.

The California Unruh Civil Rights Act states “that persons with disabilities are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever within the jurisdiction of the State of California,” and that as a business establishment, Kaiser is subject to the provisions of the Unruh Act, the action alleges.

“Defendants are deemed to have had knowledge of its duties at all times relevant herein: its failure to carry out said duties as alleged herein was willful and knowing and/or the product of deliberate indifference,” the complaint charges, and “treble damages are warranted.”

Rios seeks an injunction ordering defendant to stop discriminating against wheelchair users in the use of its care-by-phone prescription line, and ordering Kaiser to develop and adopt non-discrimination policies and to train staff and management regarding the policies. Rios also seeks general, compensatory and statutory damages, and legal costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Michelle Uzeta of the Law Office of Michelle Uzeta in Monrovia, California, and by Raymond Ballister, Jr., Phyl Grace and Dennis Price of the Center for Disability Access in San Diego, California.