A woman who served more than 10 years as a New Mexico long term care ombudsman and claimed she was fired in 2016 for lawfully giving records under a Freedom of Information Act request has received an undisclosed settlement against the Department of Aging and Long Term Services. The woman, Sondra Everhart, handed over boarding home records to the Albuquerque Journal only to have the information turn up in a scathing newspaper article of the facilities. Boarding homes are used in New Mexico as living centers for mentally ill patients who have recently been released from state-run psychiatric facilities.
In the lawsuit, Everhart alleged that she was the target of extensive efforts by her employer, the Department of Aging and Long Term Services, to get rid of her. Providing records in response to a public information request was not against policy, but the state used it as an excuse to finally get rid of her. Everhart had spent her career as a long term care advocate, arguing that boarding house residents deserved better care and conditions, that the elderly be given more assistance in preventing financial scams from happening to them, and was vocal about exposing Medicaid fraud within her department.
Prior to her termination, Everhart filed a complaint with the federal government, alleging that the department was purposely making her job difficult, which is illegal. After her complaint, the department sought legal counsel on their ability to fire Everhart. Despite being advised that her firing would be seen as retaliation, the department moved ahead and fired her under the premise of violating policy by sharing records.