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Family sues over quadriplegic’s care at Española rehab center

May 23, 2019

A New Mexico family is suing an embattled Texas nursing home company and a now-shuttered rehabilitation center in Española, alleging negligent care there led to the death of a resident with quadriplegia.

Following a car accident in 2008, Ramon Rodriguez of Hernández spent a decade at the Española Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, relying on staff to assist him with basic tasks, such as eating and using the toilet, says a lawsuit filed this week in state District Court in Santa Fe. At the time of his death in early November, the suit says, 54-year-old Rodriguez was severely malnourished, and bed sores on his body had become infected, the tissue diseased and necrotic.

The complaint, which names the man as Raymond Rodriguez, accuses nursing staff at the center of failing to care for a patient who could do little to care for himself.

“Mr. Rodriquez’s injuries were of a kind which does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence,” the lawsuit says.

It also alleges the Española center and its parent company, Preferred Care Inc. of Texas, misrepresented the quality of care at the facility, failed to notify family about Rodriquez’s deteriorating health, did not properly maintain patient records, and provided insufficient staffing and staff training.

The facility closed less than two months after Rodriguez’s death, following the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings by Preferred Care.

The family is seeking reimbursement for medical care and funeral expenses, as well as monetary compensation for Rodriguez’s pain, suffering and loss of life.

The Española Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Preferred Care — which has operated 11 nursing homes in New Mexico, including Casa Real in Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Care Center, as well as homes in Texas and Kentucky — have records of poor patient care. Violations are documented in state and federal inspection reports, and dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the company.

In the first two months of 2018 — the last round of state inspections before the Española center closed — health inspectors reported more than 50 violations. Their report cited numerous problems with maintaining and documenting appropriate resident care, improperly administering medication and leaving some residents overly sedated or in pain.

The report also found staff did not meet state requirements to notify families of residents’ accidents or deteriorating health conditions.

One resident was not given prescribed pain medicine for renal stones; a patient with Alzheimer’s disease was not fed as medically prescribed; and a sore on a resident’s foot was improperly treated, according to the report. It said the foot injury was continually bloody, and the wound was covered with a sock, rather than a sterile bandage.

The facility also failed to prevent the spread of disease, mixed biohazards with regular trash and had pest control problems.

At the time, the center housed about 65 patients, according to a state report.

The facility also was fined $118,000 by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for deficiencies in the last three years it was operating, according to federal nursing home data compiled by ProPublica, a nonprofit national news organization.

New Mexico had the highest rate of serious deficiencies per nursing home in the nation between 2016 and 2018, the database shows.

In 2014, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against Preferred Care, alleging the company had defrauded the state and the public by providing poor quality of care. But the case has been halted because of the bankruptcy proceeding, said David Carl, a spokesman for the attorney general.

The attorney general’s lawsuit alleged the company — which drew nearly 80 percent of its $236 million in revenue since 2008 from the state and federal governments through Medicaid payments — failed to provide the basic care required for vulnerable residents.

There was a “profound difference” between what the company promised and what it offered patients, the lawsuit said, citing chronic understaffing; numerous residents who were not properly fed, bathed and moved to prevent bed sores; and patients who were left for hours in soiled bedclothes and diapers.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said in an email Wednesday that filing for bankruptcy protection “should not be legal in America when trying to seek justice or reforms.”

Stephen McCartin, an attorney for Preferred Care, did not return messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

In January 2018, he told the Dallas Morning News the company was filing for bankruptcy in part because of overly litigious, “ambulance-chasing lawsuits.”

Bankruptcy documents listed more than 160 lawsuits filed against Preferred Care, with $10 million paid in legal fees between 2014 and 2016, the Dallas Morning News reported. The company said this inhibited its ability to spend money on patients.

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