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Lawsuit claims late ambulance caused man’s death

SANTA FE, N.M. — A lawsuit filed in Santa Fe last week says a San Miguel County ambulance took 45 minutes to get to a man who was suffering from a deadly stroke, but state officials and the head of the ambulance company say the ambulance got to him in less than half that time.

Lawrence Quintana, 46, started suffering from a stroke the night of Oct 7, 2015, and an ambulance was dispatched to his residence, according to a wrongful death suit filed in Santa Fe District Court. A first vehicle from Superior Ambulance, a private company that has a contract with San Miguel County, wasn’t able to find the home, but a second ambulance was able to find it about 45 minutes after the initial 911 call was made.

The ambulance got on the radio with Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas, which the suit says “held itself out” to be a full-service hospital, to alert it about the incoming patient with a possible stroke. But the hospital diverted the ambulance to Santa Fe, which is about 70 miles away. Attorney Criostoir Cleireachain – who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Quintana’s personal representative, John Howard – didn’t clarify why the hospital turned Quintana away when reached by phone Wednesday.

Quintana arrived at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe around 2:30 a.m., nearly three hours after the initial 911 call. He died about five days after being admitted. “Due to the delay in obtaining hospital treatment, Mr. Quintana was unable to recover from the medical insult to his brain and body,” the suit says.

The complaint names the city of Las Vegas, San Miguel County, Superior Ambulance, Alta Vista and the state Department of Public Safety as defendants, claiming they were all partly responsible for Quintana’s death. Maria Jaramillo, who is described as Quintana’s partner in the lawsuit, is seeking damages for medical bills, and pain and suffering related to Quintana’s death.

Superior Ambulance CEO Chris Archuleta said Thursday that there’s no proof that a first ambulance was dispatched and couldn’t find Quintana’s residence. He said the ambulance that transported Quintana took about 20 minutes to respond, which he said is an adequate response time because the home was about 15-20 miles outside the Las Vegas city limits.

“We’re still trying to research a first ambulance, but the second ambulance responded within the time limit,” Archuleta said. “We don’t even know if there was a first ambulance, and it doesn’t appear that they had an issue finding the patient’s residence.”

Ambulance services are overseen by the state Public Regulation Commission. Avelino Gutierrez, the PRC transportation division director, confirmed Thursday that there was only one ambulance dispatched to the residence that night, with a 20-minute response time. He also said the PRC never got any complaints about the incident.

Las Vegas city government handles emergency dispatch duties for the city, even though the ambulances are run by a private company. City spokesman Lee Einer said he couldn’t provide a comment about the lawsuit Thursday.

“Because we only became aware of this because of your phone call, the matter is under investigation and we’re looking into the facts,” Einer said.

San Miguel County Commissioner Rock Ulibarri said it was common for ambulances in the county to have long response times. “They can get tied up pretty quickly,” he said. “We can probably use one or two more ambulances.”

Ulibarri also said it’s typical for people to get turned away from Alta Vista and have to get treatment in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. He said the commission is looking into the possibility of a county-funded hospital that would provide all the medical services that can be found in other New Mexico cities, but for now the best commissioners can do to advance that plan is to put it to voters in the November 2018 election.

“I think that’s the biggest way to solve some of our biggest problems here,” Ulibarri said.

A representative from Alta Vista couldn’t be reached Thursday.

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