- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A state district judge has rejected attempts by lawyers for one of the nation’s largest nursing home chains to quash a lawsuit filed by New Mexico’s attorney general over sweeping allegation of inadequate care.

Judge Sarah Singleton this week issued an order denying motions to dismiss the case.

Lawyers for Texas-based Preferred Care Partners Management Group have argued that the lawsuit is a case of greed and opportunism, and that New Mexico is targeting practices at facilities that occurred before the company bought them.

They also say the state was pressured to sue by a Washington, D.C., law firm that had lobbied the previous administration within the attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said Thursday he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“Many vulnerable New Mexicans suffered horrifically, some even losing their lives,” he said. “Our office will continue to fight for better care for New Mexicans and against corporations who place profits over people.”

The state initially sued in December 2014, alleging that the business’ thin staffing made it impossible to provide good care. The suit targeted several nursing homes run by Preferred Care Partners Management Group, a privately held company with operations in at least 10 states: Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The lawsuit used a novel approach to outline its claims, relying on the number of hours it takes to complete basic tasks, from helping residents to the bathroom to feeding and bathing them.

New Mexico alleged residents were not getting the care they needed, and the state and federal government were being improperly billed.

Preferred Care has defended the care provided to residents in its New Mexico facilities, saying the company’s staff is compassionate.

Preferred Care also has taken aim at prosecutors for how the case came about, saying the private law firm that first approached New Mexico about the case in 2012 has used similar tactics against nursing homes with other attorneys general across the country.

Balderas, who took office in 2015, initiated a review of the merits of the case before deciding to pursue the lawsuit.

The case was highlighted in a New York Times story that detailed the practice of private law firms seeking contracts with state attorneys general to sue companies in the hopes of sharing any money won by the states. One of those private firms in 2012 approached then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King to take on the case.

Balderas has said he felt compelled to act after hearing numerous accounts from residents’ families and former nursing home employees.

The trial is scheduled to begin in April 2018.

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