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Woman alleges medical neglect at San Juan County jail

Private company hired by jail has been sued nearly 1,400 times for similar problems

A woman being held at the San Juan County jail says medical staff at the facility have repeatedly denied her requests for care and medicine to treat her chronic health conditions.

In a tort claim notice filed on behalf of Aurelia Hernandez, she said staff at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center also attempted to silence her concerns by threatening her with solitary confinement if she continues to bring up issues with her lack of medical care.

The 35-year-old woman from Farmington has been incarcerated since Dec. 27, according to court records.

A Farmington Police Department officer pulled her over after he witnessed her allegedly running a stop sign.

During the traffic stop, Hernandez said she was feeling pain in her chest, weakness in her legs and sickness from eating something bad earlier. As an ambulance came to treat her, she told the officer there was a gun in the trunk of her car, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in San Juan County Magistrate Court.

The next day, police got a search warrant for her car and found a needle and a shotgun.

Hernandez was charged with transporting a firearm, drug possession, failure to stop, no proof of insurance, driving with a suspended license and concealing identity.

Since being incarcerated at the jail, Hernandez has suffered more than 10 seizures, the notice says.

She has been diagnosed with epilepsy, diabetes and leukemia.

In previous periods of incarceration, Hernandez was prescribed Keppra for her epileptic seizures and insulin for diabetes, according to a tort claim notice she filed against the San Juan County government.

However, staff members at the jail are not providing medicine for Hernandez, the notice says.

“They still haven’t given me my insulin shots for my diabetes, I’ve been a diabetic my whole life,” Hernandez said in a Jan. 29 interview. “They still haven’t made me no doctor’s appointments to go see my doctor for my leukemia, or anything.”

In an interview on March 7, Hernandez said she still had not seen a doctor. Two days earlier, she had gone through seven seizures in a single day and became unresponsive for 30 minutes, she said.

Paramedics rushed her to the emergency room at the San Juan Regional Medical Center. Hospital staff members wrote an order for her Keppra, she said, but she still had not received it.

“The facility here doesn’t seem to think I need that medication for my seizures,” she said.

To deal with her changing blood sugar levels, Hernandez “must rely upon other detainees for candy bars and sugar sources,” the notice says.

Hernandez said she also relies on the other women in her cell to keep her safe while she seizes.

“I am very thankful for all the ladies in my bunk area and in the pod, ‘cuz hadn’t it been for the ladies that are here, who knows what would happen to us,” Hernandez said. “By the time they respond to a medical call and come back to the unit to check on us, it’s already been who knows how long.”

Hernandez said it’s not fair for the incarcerated women alongside her to also be doing the job of medical staff members by taking care of the sick people in the jail.

She’s submitted grievances on the tablet computer provided to inmates, she said, but still hasn’t received any finger-stick blood tests to check her insulin level.

She alleges in the notice that on Feb. 13, the nurse who was delivering medications told her that if she continues to ask for medicine and talk about the issue with jail guards, she would “be removed to a lock-down cell and that Ms. Hernandez will lose privileges.”

In other words, she would be put in solitary confinement.

Hernandez filed the tort claim notice two days later. The document is the formal way of telling a government entity in New Mexico that someone has experienced some kind of injury from government action or inaction. It can be the first step in filing a lawsuit.

San Juan County hired WellPath for medical services within the facility, said Devin Neeley, a spokesperson for the county government. WellPath is a Nashville-based company that sells medical and mental health care in jails, prisons and other facilities.

WellPath is the rebranded name of a company called Correct Care Solutions. That company was sued in federal court 1,395 times between 2008 and 2018 for various claims including wrongful death, malpractice and inadequate medical care, according to an investigation by Yahoo News and the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

Hernandez’s notice argues that since San Juan County is the medical provider’s employer, it is responsible for the company’s actions.

San Juan County Attorney Joe Sawyer declined to be interviewed for this story.

Neeley said Sawyer would not do an interview because of the potential for a lawsuit stemming from the tort claim notice “and the possible violation of HIPAA involved in release of specific medical information about any detainees.”

“It is our policy to not comment on such matters,” Neeley said in a written statement. “While we cannot speak to the specific nature of any current or possible claims, it is the goal of the San Juan County Adult Detention Center to hold our staff and contractors to the highest standards and provide appropriate medical care for all individuals in custody.”

Hernandez’s attorney, Mark Curnutt, wrote in the notice that the medical staff’s statements about her prescriptions “indicated that staff has knowledge that the prescriptions exist and that the client has been diagnosed with medical issues.”

The staff’s lack of care for Hernandez, he wrote, has resulted in brain trauma, neurological issues, mental health deterioration, worsening of her diabetic symptoms, and other damages yet to be determined.

According to the notice, jail staff members have not given her an adequate reason why she cannot get updated prescriptions while incarcerated.

Hernandez said medical staff told her the last time she refilled her prescriptions at a pharmacy was in 2019, but she says that’s just an excuse to not give her insulin or Keppra.

“Well of course, because I’ve been incarcerated since then, going back and forth from being locked up and going to treatment,” Hernandez said. “I haven’t had enough time to be out there on the streets to go get them filled with the pharmacy.”

Hernandez said other parts of her medical history are being ignored, too, including her allergies to fish and wool. She tried to request a cotton blanket instead of a wool one, but said staff members told her they do not have any cotton blankets. She doesn’t think that’s true, because she said another staff member said her request for a cotton blanket was approved.

The jail’s medical staff has a duty to the people incarcerated there to provide medical care, Curnutt wrote.

“Refusing to provide medical care and refusing to provide medication is a breach of the duty of care,” he wrote.

To read more stories from Source NM, visit www.sourcenm.com.