RIO RANCHO, N.M. — An assisted-living home in Rio Rancho is facing a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit over the death of a 79-year-old man with dementia who suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage after being badly beaten by his roommate, a retired police officer who was himself suffering from dementia.
The family of Gilbert Perea, who would have turned 80 in May, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in state District Court in Bernalillo County and detailed the allegations within it Friday at a news conference. At the conference, Perea’s wife, son and two daughters spoke about the impact Perea’s death has had on them and urged other families to be careful when choosing assisted-living facilities for their loved ones.
“You put your faith in these people. You’re trusting them to look in on (your relatives),” said Cecilia Gonzalez, Perea’s daughter who spoke at the conference via video. “…You put your trust in these people. I just can’t believe this is happening to our family.”
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Dusti Harvey, names as defendants the Sandia Springs facility in Rio Rancho, the Emeritus Corp., Brookdale Senior Living Inc., and Debra Mobley Sadler, the facility’s care director at the time of the attack. Harvey said three main factors – Perea’s overmedication, the staff’s failure to evaluate his roommate, and the company’s profit-driven motives – all contributed to Perea’s death and the subsequent lawsuit.
“They knew (Chavez) should not have been in the same facility, let alone the same room, as Mr. Perea,” Harvey said at the news conference.
Sandia Springs referred requests for comment to its parent corporation, Brookdale Senior Living Inc., which was unable to answer a request for comment when reached by phone Friday afternoon.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 2014, staff at Sandia Springs found Perea lying on the floor in his two-person room, covered in blood, as his roommate stood over him and kicked him, according to the police report.
Neither of the men, who were at the facility’s memory unit, could give a coherent recollection of the events.
Perea was sent to the hospital, where he died three weeks later, and his roommate, David Chavez, was sent to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, the state’s only psychiatric hospital.
An autopsy found that Perea died from a subdural hematoma, to which patients with dementia are susceptible, after suffering blunt-force trauma.
Perea’s family said that their relative, a former long-distance runner in good physical condition, rapidly deteriorated during his short residency at the home.
They said he was overmedicated, often drooling and losing much of his mobility.
Perea’s daughter said Chavez snapped a belt at her and her father during a visit shortly before his death, and she and her family were considering removing Perea because of concerns about his care, his roommate and his apparently dwindling health just days before his death.
Harvey also said state statutes outlined in the New Mexico Administrative Code explicitly prohibit the admission of patients into assisted-living homes if they present a clear threat to themselves or others.
She also said it appears Perea was given higher dosages at the facility of medication that is normally left up to physicians’ discretion to administer.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages to “punish defendants for their egregious conduct and to deter defendants and others from repeating such atrocities.”