Fired ombudsman settles for $285,000

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The state of New Mexico is paying $285,000 to settle a law- suit led by the state's former long-term care ombudsman, who claimed she was red illegally in June 2016, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Sondra Everhart had been advocating for assisted living and nursing home residents for more than a decade as part of her $81,000-per-year position with the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services when she was terminated.

According to the lawsuit, Everhart claimed that department managers fired her because of her advocacy on behalf of boarding home residents, her request that the agency do more to protect the elderly from financial exploitation, her attempts to combat Medicaid fraud by the department and her proposal that the ombudsman office be removed from department control.

Department managers said Everhart was fired because she provided the Albuquerque Journal with records of conditions in boarding homes that serve former state psychiatric hospital patients in the Las Vegas, NM area.

Everhart, however, said she was legally authorized to release the records in response to the newspaper's open records request, according to the lawsuit.

Everhart redacted resident names contained in the records, but the department said the redactions were inadequate to protect all identifying information for residents. It said providing the records was unlawful.

Under the terms of the settlement, which was reached in June but sealed for six months per New Mexico law, Everhart was permitted to resign from her position retroactively, and the department agreed to provide a neutral employment reference. The department did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Everhart's attorney said they were pleased with the settlement. The department did not respond to a McKnight's request for comment.