The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa is facing a lawsuit alleging negligence from a mom whose son died at a hospital after receiving care at the state-run facility.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Grace Rodriguez, also makes allegations against the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and its officials. Her son, Moses Rodriguez, died on Nov. 5, 2015, at St. Luke’s, one week after he left SWITC and was placed back in the care of his mother.
According to the suit, when Health and Welfare filed an application for commitment of Moses Rodriguez, his mother was not notified. Grace Rodriguez had legal guardianship and conservatorship over Moses since May 2009.
Moses Rodriguez had severe autism, chronic seizures and developmental disabilities, resulting in the 24-year-old having the mental capacity of a person who is about 3 to 4 years old, according to the complaint. It also states that Grace Rodriguez had issues with strength and mobility, and therefore was incapable of chasing him when he wandered. Because of the problem, Rodriguez asked for in-home assistance paid for by Medicaid.
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In the spring of 2015, Moses eloped from one of those caretakers, went into a neighbor’s trailer and disrobed. As a result, the Rodriguez family was evicted by their landlord.
In August 2015, after commitment hearings, Health and Welfare employees and police went to the hotel where the Rodriguezes were temporarily staying to pick up Moses and take him to SWITC, according to the suit. Grace Rodriguez maintains they did not ask permission to take Moses.
The complaint alleges that employees at SWITC and Health and Welfare ignored concerning and life-threatening health conditions that Moses had. During his time at the state-run facility, Moses was hospitalized three times for uncontrolled seizures, according to the suit.
A letter from Moses Rodriguez’s doctor, Dr. Robert Wechsler, to the Department of Health and Welfare’s Developmental Disability Program is cited. Wechsler, a neurologist specializing in epilepsy, states that Moses Rodriguez should not have been removed from his mother’s care.
“… Any implication that he received less than ideal care is, frankly, shocking and unbelievable to me. I can only assume that there has been some sort of misunderstanding,” Wechsler wrote. “It is my sincere hope that this issue is worked out and that Moses is returned to his mom’s care quickly.”
Grace Rodriguez alleges that the SWITC staff changed Moses’ medications without a doctor’s recommendation. She said she attempted to warn the staff that such changes could cause complications, according to the suit.
After Moses was hospitalized the second time while in the state’s care, Wechsler wrote a report following an EEG study in September 2015, according to the suit.
“His family has historically taken fantastic care of him but concerns about his behaviors prompted the state to take him from his family and place him at SWITC,” the report from Wechsler read. “Within a few weeks he has had two hospitalizations – one medical and now one neurological.”
The report stated that the hospitalizations may have come after “possibly not having received adequate rescue at SWITC” when a seizure episode began.
Despite multiple warnings from the doctor, the state kept Moses at SWITC, the suit says.
An email and call by the Idaho Statesman to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on Thursday did not receive an immediate response.
SWITC has faced other criticism this summer, after an investigation into complaints of psychological and physical abuse of seven adult residents. Six employees resigned or were fired earlier this month after the department finished its investigation. Two of the employees were the main culprits in the abuse, and the other four knew about the abuse but did not report it, the department said.
Also, employees at the treatment facility discovered a 27-year-old male resident dead in his bed on Aug. 20. The investigation into that case is ongoing.
Rodriguez’s attorney, Breck Seiniger Jr., told the Statesman on Thursday that the timing of the lawsuit is “coincidental” to other recent problems at SWITC. Seiniger said he has been working on the case for nearly a year and filed a tort claim months ago.
After learning of other problems at the center, Seiniger said it became apparent that Rodriguez’s case is “more than one isolated incident of someone doing a terrible job.”