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Jail Term for DUI Turns into Death Sentence
Eickstadt didn't know he was diabetic when he started his jail sentence. But by August 23, 2000 he was sure he suffered from some kind of serious medical problem, and he requested in writing to be seen by a doctor.
The jail has a $210,000/month contract with EMSA Correctional Care to provide 24hour medical services. It specifies that prisoners requesting medical treatment be examined by a qualified health care provider within 24 hours.
Eickstadt's request for treatment went unanswered for 18 days, while his symptoms worsened. Finally, on September 10, he was examined at sick call by an EMSA nurse. At that time, he complained of vomiting, shortness of breath, bleeding gums, and constant urination. The nurse put him on a liquid diet, ordered a urinalysis, which was never performed, and sent him back to his cell.
The next day, Eickstadt told jailers he wasn't feeling well but received no medical attention until hours later when deputies found him unconscious in his cell. A doctor ordered the still unconscious man to the hospital 25 minutes later, after noting low blood pressure and high blood sugar. Rocky Eickstadt, 35, died two days later.
County Coroner Brad Lewis ruled the cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis, which caused Eickstadt's brain, heart, kidneys and liver to malfunction. "We're going to be filing a suit in this case," Eickstadt family attorney Michael Rourke told the Columbus Dispatch. "We still have some real concerns about what happened to Rocky at the jail and at the hospital."
Franklin County formerly contracted with St. Louisbased Correctional Medical Services (CMS) to provide health care services at the jail, but switched to EMSA in 1998 because CMS had been repeatedly faulted by the county for being understaffed.
CMS is the nation's largest private "correctional health services" corporation [See: "Dying for Profits," PLN, Dec. 2000]. EMSA is a subsidiary of Nashville, Tennesseebased Prison Health Services, the number two player in the private prisoner health care market. According to a story published in the New York Times, Prison Health Services is a $400 millionayear corporation that delivers medical and dental care to 175,000 prisoners in 27 states. The company has a spotty record for care and severe staffing problems, the Times reported.
According to the Dispatch, Franklin County officials warned EMSA in 1998 that poor service would not be tolerated, after media reports nationwide linked the company to improper care.
Now the county is telling EMSA that it _ not the county _ is liable for any legal damages that might he awarded in connection with Eickstadt's death. County prosecutor Ron O'Brien, in a letter to Prison Health Services, reminded the company that under the terms of its $2.5 million contract with the county, the company will pay when its poor performance leads to injuries, deaths, and lawsuits involving jail detainees.
"We wanted to put them on notice. Litigation is commencing in very short order," O'Brien said. "The sheriff's department is investigating, but the company's own official _ Dr. Vincent Spagna _ wrote that deputies did not appear to be at fault."
Sources: Columbus Dispatch, New York Times
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