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St. Vincent’s hit hard by LV jury

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From AP and Staff Reports

A Las Vegas jury found that Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe failed to adequately treat a former Raton resident during his 2006 stay at the hospital, and awarded his estate more than $10.3 million in damages.

Alfred Gonzales had suffered bedsores after hip surgery because of improper treatment. He later died of unrelated causes at age 57.

The jury awarded $595,000 for compensatory damages and $9.75 million for punitive damages.

The medical malpractice complaint was filed in March 2008. The jury trail got underway last Monday with District Judge Abigal Aragon presiding, and concluded Friday.

The hospital issued a statement saying it was shocked at the size of the verdict and will appeal. It said there was doubt whether the hospital’s action caused significant harm to Gonzales.

According to court documents, Gonzales suffered from “pressure wounds” and malnourishment after his stay because employees failed to follow the hospital’s protocol for preventing those conditions. The suit also accused the hospital of falsifying entries in Gonzales’ medical record.

Gonzales was a cemetery maintenance worker with an eighth-grade education.

Another of his lawyers, Tom Rhodes, said he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in the 1980s, leaving him “significantly cognitively impaired.”

Rhodes said Gonzales spent a week at St. Vincent in 2006 after undergoing hip surgery, then stayed for a week at the Casa Real Health Care Center in Santa Fe before returning to St. Vincent for two more weeks. He was later transferred to Vida Encantada Las Vegas.

Rhodes said Gonzales developed serious bed sores on his heels at St. Vincent.

“They just kind of ignored him,” Rhodes said. “Shift after shift after shift, they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. After they knew he had a problem, they charted saying there was no problem. It was haphazard and reckless, like they weren’t really doing the stuff; they were just writing it down. A lot of it had to do with the fact that he couldn’t communicate well.”

Two nursing homes — Casa Real Health Center in Santa Fe and Vida Encantada Nursing and Rehab — were also named in the original suit. Vida Encantada settled out of court, Rhodes said.

The case against Casa Real was pending.

Lee Hunt, one of Gonzales’ attorney, said the Vida Encantada connection is the reason why the St. Vincent’s case was tried in Las Vegas.

St. Vincent spokesman Arturo Delgado said Friday that the hospital was “concerned about the impact of this judgment on our healthcare system.”

Delgado wrote that experts debated whether the hospital’s actions caused significant harm to Gonzales, but that privacy laws and respect for the family prevented the hospital from commenting specifically.