Tarahumara Victim of Mental Health System
A Kansas advocacy group for the disabled has filed a lawsuit alleging that state employees mishandled the case of an Indian woman, violating her civil rights.
The $10 million federal lawsuit, filed Friday in Wichita, contends Larned State Hospital officials misdiagnosed Rita Patino Quintero as schizophrenic and possibly permanently disabled her with drugs.
In addition, hospital officials failed to identify the aging woman's culture and language, the suit says. As a result, she was kept against her will at the hospital from June 1983 until last September.
Quintero is a Tarahumara Indian from northern Mexico. The Tarahumara tribe is one of the largest in Mexico.
"You can blame it on typical bureaucracy problems," said Peter Williams, executive director of Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services, which sued on Quintero's behalf. "But it happened because people weren't paying attention and weren't sensitive to language and customs."
The suit names 16 doctors, seven social workers, six psychologists, the former and current superintendents at Larned and the secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Larned officials declined to comment.
A spokesman for Rochelle Chronister, the Social and Rehabilitation Services secretary, also declined to comment, saying Chronister had not received a copy of the suit. The suit seeks actual and punitive damages.
Quintero apparently wandered into Kansas sometime in 1983. She was found rummaging through a trash can in Johnson City, Kan., and eventually was taken to Larned.
There she stayed as a patient until the advocacy group intervened and articles on her case appeared in The Kansas City Star.
In September, the group persuaded Larned officials to release Quintero and allow her to return to Mexico.
Williams said he is hopeful the suit can force changes in the department, which oversees the state's hospitals for the mentally ill.
"All of the defendants deliberately forced Ms. Quintero to abandon her ethnic identity and conform to Euro-American cultural customs by forcing her to attend certain activity therapies, by forcing her to change her behavior, her dress, her language, her thoughts, her beliefs and her standard of hygiene," the suit says.
Quintero's native tongue is Raramuri, a language related to that spoken by the Aztecs. The staff at Larned tried to diagnose and treat her in English and Spanish. Quintero knew little Spanish and no English.
Those involved in her case are astounded that Larned officials could not identity Quintero for 10 years. Staff members knew her as Rita Carillo, and many thought she was Hispanic.
But a handwritten 1984 entry in her hospital records noted that Quintero said she was from Cerocahui, Chihuahua, in Mexico and that she was a Tarahumara.
It wasn't until Kansas Advocacy workers saw the note in 1993 that doctors who spoke Raramuri were contacted and allowed to re-evaluate Quintero.
Quintero has left the Mexican nursing home where she was first placed and has been reunited with the nomadic people of her tribe. But Williams is unsure whether she is still suffering complications from medicine given to her at Larned.
"We honestly don't know," he said. "But at least she is back home among her people."
Dwight A Corrin
P O Box 47828
Wichita KS 67201-7828
Tel: 316/ 263-9706
Fax 316/ 263-6385
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