New Mexico settles wrongful death suit over veteran’s death

September 28, 2022 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A wrongful death lawsuit filed against the New Mexico Department of Health after a Vietnam War veteran contracted COVID-19 at a veterans’ home has been settled for $300,000.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that 75-year-old Rickey Lee Widener of Ruidoso died at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences on Dec. 3, 2020.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Widener’s widow alleged medical negligence, according to the newspaper.

News of the settlement comes after state lawmakers last week received a new evaluation of state-operated hospitals for veterans, the mentally ill and the elderly describing inadequate oversight that threatens the ability to provide quality care, including harmful conditions at a care facility for military veterans in Truth or Consequences.

The facility risks losing funding agreements with Medicaid and Medicare programs if deficiencies are still unresolved in December.


The suit said that during a Department of Health survey of the veterans’ home, it was found to be in non-compliance with applicable rules, regulations and policies and procedures regarding COVID-19, causing a finding of “immediate jeopardy” to be called on Dec. 9, 2020, the lawsuit said.

Immediate jeopardy in the context of a hospital, nursing home or similar facility means it “has been determined to represent an immediate risk of serious injury or death to its patients/residents,” the suit said.

The survey’s findings of noncompliance included a coronavirus-positive employee who was allowed to provide care to residents with confirmed cases and those who hadn’t tested positive, including allowing the staff member to hand out food trays and assist in transferring residents from unit to unit, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health declined to comment on the settlement because there is one remaining lawsuit involving COVID-19 at the State Veterans’ Home.

New Mexico has assigned at least $60 million to the Department of Health to build a new veteran’s home buildings at Truth or Consequences that are scheduled for completion next year.