ORONO (BDN) -- An Orono mother has reached a deal that requires the federal government pay $8 million over a federally funded Brewer medical clinic’s failure to tell her or state authorities about signs of abuse inflicted on her then-6-month-old son.
The majority of the $8 million settlement between Alexandria Orduna and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sets aside $17,000 a month in a trust account for the rest of her son’s life. The money will help cover the cost of his long-term medical care, services and other accommodations needed because of his injuries and resulting disabilities.
The remainder of the settlement will cover legal expenses accrued during the lawsuit.
Orduna’s son, now 4, suffered brain injuries on Jan. 10, 2019, as the result of a skull fracture allegedly inflicted by Cyree Hansley, 27, of North Carolina, according to court documents. Hansley was living with Orduna, 24, when the boy was injured but is not his father.
Orduna repeatedly reported her son’s mysterious injuries, including bruised ears and swollen ankles, to his pediatric care providers in an attempt to discover what caused them, according to Alexis Chardon, who represents Orduna alongside Terry Garmey. The medical professionals, however, allegedly failed to recognize and report the signs of child abuse to authorities — something they’re required to do by law as mandated reporters.
“This little boy couldn’t talk, but his body could and his health care practitioners didn’t listen to what it was saying,” Garmey said. “His body told the story like a cave painting there to be seen, interpreted and investigated and it didn’t happen.”
Ultimately, Orduna brought her son to the emergency room at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after he was violently attacked. There, he received a full-body scan that showed new wounds, including a broken back and skull, as well as old injuries that were healing but never detected by the boy’s original providers, Garmey said. The healing injuries also matched concerns Orduna had first brought to her son’s doctor.
EMMC providers immediately reported the suspected child abuse to authorities and separated the boy from potential abuses, Garmey said.
The boy is now almost entirely blind, and his brain stopped growing at the time of his beating. He also has limited movement in his left arm and leg.
Chardon and Garmey agreed that if the boy’s doctors had recognized his injuries as signs of child abuse, told Orduna and alerted authorities, her son would not have been later attacked and seriously injured.
Orduna sued the federal agency that runs Medicaid, which paid for the care her son received, rather than sue the medical clinic, which is run by Bangor-based Penobscot Community Health Care. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the U.S. government steps in to defend a federally funded medical practice in cases such as this.
“Penobscot Community Health Care is relieved for the Orduna family that a settlement has been reached,” said Kate Carlisle, a spokesperson for the health care provider. “We hope this resolution brings them some small comfort in this tragic case.”
The assistant U.S. attorney representing the U.S. government declined to comment on the case Monday.
Chardon and Garmey said they believe Orduna’s $8 million settlement is the largest public medical malpractice settlement in Maine. They hope the case protects other children by reminding health care providers nationwide of their responsibility to look out for and report signs of abuse in children.
“Children can’t speak and protect themselves; we protect them,” Garmey said. “Among those people charged with their protection are the people who provide them health care, see them in pain, look at their bodies and ask questions.”
Hansley pleaded guilty last year, on Nov. 9, to one count each of aggravated assault, a Class B crime, and one count of assault on a child less than 6 years old, a Class C crime, in connection with the alleged assault.
He was sentenced to nine years in prison with all but four years suspended to be followed by more than 5 years of probation.
Hansley is incarcerated at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren. His earliest possible release date is June 15, 2024, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.
If you are concerned about a child being neglected or abused, call Maine’s 24-hour hotline at 800-452-1999 or 711 to speak with a child protective specialist. Calls may be made anonymously. For more information, click here.