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Damages Awarded in N.M. ED Delay Case

A New Mexico jury awarded $115,000 to a Rio Rancho man who waited more than five hours in Presbyterian Hospital's Downtown emergency room with appendicitis before he was seen by a physician.

Chris Mandeville, a Rio Rancho Fire Department paramedic, suffered a burst appendix before he was admitted to a surgical unit more than nine hours after he and his wife arrived at the emergency room in 2010, according to court records. Mandeville said he filed the lawsuit to prompt Presbyterian to "fix" its emergency room system.

"There's a breakdown in communication and training with Presbyterian," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. A 2nd Judicial District Court jury on Friday awarded Mandeville $15,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. Niki Allcorn, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said attorneys had not decided as of Wednesday whether they would appeal the verdict. Allcorn said she could not discuss details of the case.

Presbyterian established a "patient navigator" program in response to Mandeville's case that diverts non-emergency patients to primary care providers to alleviate emergency room congestion, Allcorn said.

A doctor at a Presbyterian urgent care in Rio Rancho had diagnosed Mandeville with appendicitis and directed him to Presbyterian's Downtown emergency room at 5 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2010, according to court records.

Mandeville was seen by a triage nurse at 5:48 p.m., but was not seen by a doctor until shortly after 11 p.m., records show. He said by 9 p.m., the pain in his abdomen was so severe that he could no longer walk. He remained in the hospital for eight days after the surgery, but has since recovered and returned to work, he said.

A CT scan completed by 12:30 a.m. Feb. 13, 2010, showed results "compatible with acute appendicitis," according to a response filed by attorneys representing Presbyterian. Mandeville was admitted to the hospital for surgery at 3 a.m., more than nine hours after he arrived at the emergency room, according to the complaint.

Mandeville should never have been directed to an emergency room, said his attorney, James C. Ellis of Albuquerque. His urgent care physician "didn't know that he could have sent the patient directly to a surgeon," Ellis said in an interview Wednesday. Mandeville should have received surgery within minutes after a physician diagnosed him with acute appendicitis, Ellis said.

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