The state of Nebraska has agreed to pay $385,000 to a woman who sued the Lincoln Regional Center for delaying her physician-ordered mammogram for more than a year, then denying many radiation treatments after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But what is profoundly important about Ruth Cecetka's case and settlement is the significant changes the regional center has agreed to make going forward, one of her lawyers said Wednesday.
"Ruth's case and the settlement that we reached won't just affect her but every single person that is a patient at the Lincoln Regional Center," said attorney Kathleen Neary, who represented Cecetka along with co-counsel Elizabeth Govaerts and Disability Rights Nebraska.
The state made no admission of liability or wrongdoing, but did agree to make a number of changes.
Within 90 days, the regional center will:
* Change its in-take forms to include family medical history information and questions about the dates of recent preventative care visits such as mammograms and prostate exams;
* Provide preventative care that is required by the American Medical Association;
* Take steps to improve the lines of communication between regional center staff, patients and medical providers;
* Develop a formal Americans with Disabilities policy regarding requests for reasonable accommodations, train employees on it within 120 days and include the policy in the Patient Bill of Rights provided at admission;
* Provide relevant education and group therapy for patients with serious medical illnesses;
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* Develop a policy that provides patients some degree of confidentiality when communicating with off-campus medical providers; and
* Provide Cecetka's counsel the final report or reports of their consultant regarding the use of restraint and seclusion within 14 days of the agreement.
Neary said the changes will be specific to the Regional Center because that's where the deficiencies were found.
In June, a federal judge said Cecetka's lawsuit could go forward against the regional center and staff members, who she accused of failing to properly care for her health after she was committed there Jan. 31, 2013.
In it, her attorneys alleged Cecetka began asking for a mammogram about Oct. 1, 2013. And, because of a family history of breast cancer, her doctors repeatedly ordered annual mammograms to screen for it.
When she finally got one May 21, 2015, nearly 2½ years after being sent to the regional center, it was "highly suggestive for malignancy.” A biopsy that followed confirmed she had breast cancer.
Cecetka underwent a partial mastectomy, but said regional center staff denied her many of the radiation treatments her doctors ordered, the lawsuit alleged.
"Ruth Cecetka stood up for her rights," Neary said, "and by her taking a stand and litigating this case it will result in the protection of civil rights and the delivery of better health care for all patients of the regional center."
Neary said she was proud to represent Cecetka and called the case one of the most important that Powers Law has handled in terms of its effect on a vulnerable population.
According to the settlement, the state will pay $50,000 within 14 days. The remaining $335,000 will have to be reviewed by the Legislature next year.