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Lawsuit verdict vindicates grieving NM family

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Inez Martinez’s five daughters knew something was wrong with their mother as they prepared to pick her up from a Las Cruces nursing home, where she had been for 20 days recovering from pacemaker surgery. The surgical incision from the implant was oozing, red.

Inez “Nacy” Martinez

The 82-year-old matriarch told her kids – and nurses at the nursing home – that pain was radiating down her arm from the wound. Her throat and blistered lips hurt.

Yet Dr. Guadencio Pavia, one of the Village of Northrise nursing home’s contract doctors, never visited Martinez in the nursing home, court records show. And even when she visited his office two days before her discharge, he never looked at her incision.

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One day after the visit with Pavia, Martinez told Northrise nurses that her incision was sending pain down her arm and chest. So they faxed that information to Pavia. He signed the fax but never followed up.

Martinez was discharged May 5, 2010.

She died 11 days later of a blood infection, kidney failure, a heart attack and more triggered by MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an infection she acquired during her stay at Northrise.

“Dr. Pavia never examined Martinez’s incision during her stay at (Northrise), and it was later revealed at trial that attending physicians were not required to come to the facility to see their patients,” the state’s Court of Appeals judges wrote in a September 2016 opinion upholding the daughter’s multimillion-dollar wrongful death lawsuit verdict against the nursing home.

“Experts for both sides agreed that this conduct fell below the standard of care,” Judge Linda Vanzi wrote in the opinion with Judges M. Monica Zamora an J. Miles Hanisee.

‘No one would listen’

The daughters sued.

Their attorney, Lisa Curtis, said the lawsuit represented an attempt to “bring some humanity to their mother.”

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“She was this very sweet woman,” Curtis said. “She and her best friend would go get ice cream in TorC, and that was the height of their day. She took meticulous care of their home. She was the grand marshal of the TorC parade. She was just really loved.”

Curtis said the daughters sat by their mother’s side every day of her stay in the nursing home and hospital.

“They knew something was wrong, but no one would listen to them,” Curtis said.

A jury awarded the family $2.5 million, plus interest, from the for-profit nursing home company.

That award was in addition to settlements the family received from the urgent care company and its doctor and a physician assistant, and from Pavia, the contract doctor with Northrise who was responsible for Martinez’s care while in the nursing home.

But the nursing home company and its parent companies fought that judgment – and partly won.

Peak Medical Assisted Living was the primary parent company to the Northrise nursing home. But that parent company had several of its own parents, including Sun HealthCare Group, which has since been purchased by Genesis HealthCare. The company owns several facilities across the state, including in Albuquerque.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals released the additional parent companies from having to pay a share of the damages to the family.

The nursing home company and Northrise nursing home Executive Director Donald Wilson refused to comment on the litigation or whether any changes in policy resulted from the judgment.

Pavia, an internal medicine doctor with a private practice in Las Cruces, has no sustained complaints against him at the state Medical Board, though the existence of complaints under investigation are not public. He is not nationally board-certified. Pavia did not return a call for comment.

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