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Estate of Pennsylvania Prisoner Killed By Wexford Health Sources Settles Suit for $2.15 Million

Wexford Health Sources and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have agreed to pay $2.15 million to the family of an asthmatic prisoner who died after her medication was denied at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in Muncy.
Erin Finley, 26, was transferred to SCI-Muncy on July 2, 2002, to serve out a 2 to 4-year sentence for theft. A lifelong asthmatic, Finley was dependent on the steroid drug Prednisone for her survival. Inexplicably, Doctor Craig Bardell, a Wexford employee, decided that Finley was faking her symptoms. Without even examining her, Bardell discontinued Finleys medication on July 15.

Over the next month Finley made several trips to the infirmary, but medical personnel ignored her pleas for help. That indifference was documented in at least three sick call requests in which Finley begged medical personnel to overturn doctor Bardells decision..

I really feel like I am going to die if nothing is done, Finley wrote to prison nurse Kathryn McCarty on July 24. Im begging you to please help me. No help was forthcoming.

In desperation, Finley filed an Official Inmate Grievance on July 28, 2002, complaining that she suffered day and night because Bardell refused to prescribe her appropriate medications. Her grievance was returned with the ruling that it was frivolous with no arguable facts. Finley continued to suffer.

On the morning of her death, August 29, 2002, Finley placed a frantic call home. She couldnt breathe, she wailed to her mother, nearly hysterical. At around noon Finley was caught with an unauthorized inhaler in her cell. She was taken to the prison infirmary for observation.

A physicians assistant informed Bardell that Finley needed to be hospitalized. He refused to see her, however, and left the prison at 2:40 p.m. At the infirmary, Joan Cicchiello, a registered nurse, decided that filling out a disciplinary report against Finley for the inhaler was more important than monitoring her medical condition.

At around 3:00 p.m. Finley lost consciousness and stopped breathing. An ambulance was called and, after being delayed at the gate while guards argued over who would follow in the chase car, transported Finley to the hospital where she was pronounced dead at 4:11 p.m.

Under the settlement agreement, approved by a U.S. magistrate judge on May 11, 2005, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will pay $700,000 to settle the claims against McCarty, Cicchiello, and Sheila Hagemeyer--a prison guard who refused to help Finley when she passed out in the medication line, and then refused to transport her to the infirmary when she couldnt breathe, and repeatedly threatened her with disciplinary action for playing them. Wexfords insurance carrier, Admiral Insurance Company, will pay the remaining $1,450,000 on behalf of Bardell, physicians assistant Susan Day, and Wexford.

Dan Brier, the familys Scranton attorney, called Finleys death a tragic loss. Our civil rights laws and our federal judicial system empowered the family to seek relief in Erins memory, he said. At the end of the day, however, it is still a tragedy.

In her last letter home, Finley promised her mother she was through with drugs and anticipated the future. I look forward to getting out and you and I going shopping and out to eat and all those normal mother and daughter things, she wrote. Thats one thing that keeps me going, is looking forward to the future.

Its unclear whether any of those responsible for Finleys death were disciplined or fired. See: Thomas v. Bardell, USDC MD PA, Case No. 03-CV-0989.

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Related legal case

Thomas v. Bardell