Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges the University of New Mexico Hospital provided substandard care of children in its pediatric cancer program over a 20-year period, greatly expanding on previous claims about the number of children potentially affected.
The suit was filed in state District Court in Bernalillo County and seeks class-action status for any child treated “for a medical condition involving any form of childhood cancer” from 1977 to 1997.
That could result in a class of up to 1,000 children and their families, the suit said.
An unrelated class-action complaint filed more than a decade ago was limited to about 100 children, claiming they were given inadequate care for acute lymphoblastic leukemia from 1989 to 1996.
The new lawsuit says UNM Hospital “gave children incorrect doses of chemotherapy, compounded drugs improperly, gave children improper medications and treatments, provided substandard care and released children without adequate instructions or arrangements for their continued care.
“Defendant has indicated that more than 100 children were mistreated in its hospital. Plaintiff has information the number of potential class members may approach 1,000.”
The suit was brought on behalf of Rose Quintana and her son, David, who died in 1988 at the age of 19 of complications from leukemia after he was treated by the pediatric cancer program.
Billy Sparks, Health Sciences Center executive director of communications, said Tuesday night, “We have not formally been notified of the filing, and we have not yet had an opportunity to read the complaint.”
The lawsuit contends the university allowed the pediatric cancer program to operate for decades without adequate supervision or control.
University officials first disclosed in 1998 that at least 110 children appeared not to have been given the newest drug therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukemia between 1989 and 1996.
The lawsuit seeks to “reap some benefit for all of the children and their families who gave up everything, lost their jobs, and who reaped a lot of heartache because they thought their children were getting the best treatment possible when they weren’t,” said Adrian Vega, a lawyer with Will Ferguson and Associates of Albuquerque, which is working with a Denver firm, Leventhal, Brown & Puga.
The lawsuit cites a Journal investigative series published in the fall of 2000. It revealed that nationally about three out of four children treated for leukemia were still alive after five years, while at UNM Hospital, only two out of four were still alive.
The suit names as plaintiffs UNM regents, the UNM Health Sciences Center, UNM Hospital and the UNM School of Medicine. Unlike earlier lawsuits, it does not name child cancer physician Dr. Marilyn Duncan, who was removed as chief of the UNM pediatric oncology clinic in 1998 and who later surrendered her license to practice medicine in New Mexico.
However, it does accuse UNM of promoting its medical center and Duncan “as well-qualified to treat cancer in children” when it should have known that the program was understaffed and underfunded, harming patient care.
The hospital’s failure caused children to suffer additional pain, suffering, mental and emotional trauma, and die needlessly, the complaint said.