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Suit claims inadequate care

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A former inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center claims in a lawsuit that authorities’ failure to provide prompt treatment for her illness while in MDC custody resulted in her developing endocarditis and lifelong heart problems.

A federal judge found Kristine Kellum had presented enough evidence to go forward with claims against most of the defendants, leading lawyers for individual defendants last month to ask the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to review those rulings.

Kellum, now 43, was out of jail in 2012 when she was picked up by her probation officer after pleading guilty to a drug charge. According to court documents, she had been an intravenous drug user but was drug free until she relapsed after a sexual assault. Her probation officer took her to a rape crisis center to document an assault 11 days earlier, and noticed her coughing, shortness of breath and fever on the way. She was then booked at Bernalillo County MDC.

The lawsuit alleges her health assessment was improperly performed on intake Oct. 17, 2012. She was placed in a segregated population cell with two other inmates, already so feverish she had to lie on the floor to cool down.

Her cellmates attempted unsuccessfully to have her seen by medical providers, even as her condition was worsening, the lawsuit says. After six days, she was seen thanks to help from her cellmates, but no tests were performed and she was given Tylenol and returned to the cell. Kellum was moved to general population, where fellow inmates continued to argue that she needed medical intervention.

When she finally was seen by medical providers about midnight on Oct. 24, 2012, she could not breathe or hold herself up, but was denied a request for a wheelchair and walked to the medical unit in “excruciating” pain.

From there, she was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital by ambulance. Staff there found she had endocarditis caused by sepsis and collapsed lungs, and had to undergo open heart surgery that will require medical monitoring for the rest of her life, the complaint says. Had it been diagnosed earlier, it says, damage to her heart would not have been as severe.

Her lawsuit contends that the medical treatment she received at MDC was “so cursory that it amounted to no treatment at all” and was beneath constitutional standards. The county has been aware through the ongoing McClendon lawsuit of overcrowding and inadequate medical care, the suit says, naming the county and its contractor Correctional Healthcare Companies as defendants.

Defendants moved the case to federal court and said they were immune under the Tort Claims Act and the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Defendants also said Kellum’s claims were barred her own comparative fault. Through their attorneys, they filed various motions seeking dismissal of claims.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack of Las Cruces, in a series of opinions, denied summary judgment to corrections officer Adela Mares and partial dismissal against nurse Stephanie Breen and Dr. Timothy Trapp, who sought qualified immunity. Those rulings are now awaiting briefings and a ruling by the appellate court.

He granted summary judgment to the Bernalillo County Commission and Mares on claims brought by Kellum under the state constitution.