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Neglected New York Prisoner Dies At Jail Following Heart Surgery

Laura Woolseys biggest fear was dying in jail. But thanks to the inept care provided her at New Yorks Schenectady County Jail, that fear was tragically realized.

Woolsey, 39, died at the jail on August 3, 2005, three hours after complaining of chest pain. She had been returned to the jail the day before, five days after undergoing surgery to replace a defective heart valve.

A report by Sheriff Harry Buffardi put the blame squarely on Schenectady Family Health Services (SFHS), the jails not-for-profit health care provider. According to the report, a guard notified the jails on-call nurse that Woolsey was complaining of chest pains at 7:45 a.m. Twenty minutes later the nurse was told that Woolseys condition appeared to be worsening. A second nurse then administered medication.

Woolsey was in total cardiac arrest by 10:20 a.m. When paramedics arrived, however, SFHS nurse Lorraine Walker told them not to administer CPR because of Woolseys recent open heart surgery. Walker falsely asserted the instructions had been issued by a doctor. The advice was contrary to sound medical procedure and common sense.

Buffardi said paramedics and several doctors told him that the need to stimulate blood flow far outweighed any risk of re-injury. When you have somebody in coronary distress, you use extraordinary procedures involving CPR to save life, which is what the firefighters would have done, said Buffardi. The sheriff subsequently banned Walker from working at the jail.

The county pays SFHS $909,038 a year to provide medical services to the jail, which has no infirmary. The company says the sheriff should not have allowed Woolsey back to the jail so soon after undergoing open heart surgery. While the SFHS staff provides excellent care to the inmates, expecting primary care nurses to provide cardiac aftercare is not sound judgment, said John M. Silva, SFHSs president and chief executive.

Buffardi says he is only trying to expose problems with the jails health care. I am responsible for the total care of the inmates, said Buffardi. I was responsible for this death. I am attached to it. Im not trying to get away from the responsibility. Im only trying to outline the problems here.

SFHS was hired in 2004 after the county severed ties with its former for-profit health care provider, Prison Health Services (PHS), after the company was faulted in the death of another prisoner at the jail, Brian Tetrault [see PLN, May 2005]. Tetrault, 44, died on November 20, 2001, a week after PHS stopped providing him with medication to control his Parkinsons disease. State investigators called the care provided by PHS medically reckless and flagrantly inadequate.

In mid-July 2005, a U.S. District Court awarded $789,988 to Bryan Lake, 59, after finding PHS, Schenectady County, and Schoharie County negligent in failing to treat him for an August 1998 heart attack that left him disabled.

Woolseys attorney, Mark Sacco, and her family say they begged Ellis Hospital not to release Woolsey so soon after major surgery. Dying in jail--that was her biggest concern, said Woolseys uncle, Michael Maher. Unfortunately, those in charge of her well being had no such trepidation.


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