Pain Drug Overdose Led to Brain Damage

By Ray Huard

UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

California

November 27, 2008

 

EAST COUNTY COURTS – An El Cajon woman who was permanently brain damaged as a result of the care she received at a county-owned nursing home has been awarded $1.6 million in a court settlement.

 

Ruth Lomeo, 44, is unable to care for herself and has limited ability to communicate with her 9-year-old son and her mother, William M. Berman, her lawyer, said in an interview yesterday.

“She can talk, although she communicates now like a 5-year-old,” Berman said. “She needs assistance with all the activities of daily living.”

In July 2005, Lomeo was given an overdose of a pain medication, and nurses at Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital in Santee waited 20 minutes to call 911 when Lomeo began to have trouble breathing, Berman said.

Lomeo sustained brain damage from a lack of oxygen.

Her lawyers initially sued the county for $2 million in damages. They accepted $1.6 million to provide for her continuing care in a settlement approved Friday by El Cajon Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon, Berman said.

Senior Deputy County Counsel Dave Axtman said the county admitted no liability but “made a business decision” to the settle rather than risk a costlier jury verdict if the case went to trial.

“All of the underlying facts were disputed,” Axtman said in an e-mail.

He said any deficiencies at the nursing home have been corrected.

Lomeo was transferred to Edgemoor from UCSD Medical Center in April 2005, Berman said. Lomeo had been in the hospital since November 2004 for treatment of lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys, Berman said.

Lomeo no longer needed the intense care of a hospital but was sent to the nursing home for further treatment.

At the nursing home, Lomeo had been prescribed the pain killer fentanyl, to be administered in the form of two skin patches on alternating arms every 48 hours, Berman said. On July 25, 2005, those treating Lomeo left one patch on one arm and put two patches on the other, causing the overdose, Berman said.

When Lomeo had trouble breathing just before 10 p.m., the nurse at Edgemoor called her supervisor and a nursing home doctor to ask permission to call 911.

It wasn’t until 10:21 p.m. that the nurse called 911. Medics arrived at 10:27 and took Lomeo to Grossmont Hospital, Berman said.

“Unfortunately, the damage had been done,” Berman said.

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