SANTA FE – The state Department of Health has reached a $215,000 settlement to resolve allegations that a man with dementia endured abuse and neglect while under care at the Behavioral Health Institute in northern New Mexico.
The settlement ends a lawsuit filed two years ago by Elaine Sanchez on behalf of her husband, Eddie Albert Sanchez, who she said ended up in a coma – dehydrated and malnourished — after mistreatment at the institute in Las Vegas.
The agreement is one of 145 settlements disclosed by the state so far this year, adding up to almost $3.7 million in payouts, according to a Journal analysis of public records.
In legal filings, attorneys for the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute denied the allegations outlined in the Sanchez lawsuit. The state also denies liability in the settlement documents and describes the agreement as a way to avoid the cost of future litigation.
The legal complaint – filed April 2021 in state District Court in San Miguel County — centers on allegations of abuse and neglect at the state-operated psychiatric hospital and long-term nursing facility in Las Vegas.
Eddie Albert Sanchez had dementia with behavioral problems and major depressive disorder, according to the lawsuit, requiring skilled care and supervision to protect him, address his behavior and allow him to function to his potential.
According to the lawsuit filed on his behalf:
- In April 2019, staff at the Behavioral Health Institute found Sanchez in his room unresponsive with a high fever. He was transported to a nearby hospital after his wife insisted.
- Two days later, Elaine Sanchez discovered signs of abuse and neglect while visiting her husband at the hospital. Eddie Albert Sanchez had sores on his feet, a black eye, a dislocated thumb, cuts and scratches on his body, toenails missing and skin peeling from his ears.
- Eddie Albert Sanchez was in a coma at one point while being treated for a fever and severe dehydration and malnourishment. After coming out of a coma, he told his wife that the Behavioral Health Institute staff had hit him and left him in his bed all day, among other allegations.
The lawsuit accuses the institute of negligence, including failure to protect Sanchez from abuse and neglect, failure to provide necessary care and failure to promptly report abuse and neglect to the authorities.
In their own legal filings, attorneys for the Behavioral Health Institute and Department of Health denied the allegations and sought to have the complaint dismissed. They said the facility carried out its work with “the skill and care ordinarily used by behavioral health institutes operating under similar circumstances.”
Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said the department “cares deeply about its patients at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and is committed to providing the highest quality of services through a united compassionate community of caregivers.”
The Journal wasn’t immediately able to reach an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The institute is New Mexico’s only public psychiatric hospital. Its work includes units dedicated to treating adults who have been accused of a crime but aren’t competent to stand trial, 13- to 17-year-old boys who have a mental illness and are accused of sexually harmful behaviors, and patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.