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Delaware DOC Still Defends Abysmal Medical Care, Prisoners Still Die From Medical Neglect

After media reports detailed incidents showing prisoners within the Delaware Department of Corrections (DDOC) were being maimed or dying because of deplorable medical care, Stan Taylor, DDOC's Commissioner, charged the reports were "sloppy reporting." Taylor's testimony in prisoner civil rights actions demonstrates that Taylor is guilty of sloppy administration.

We previously reported upon the atrocious, and at times non-existent, medical and mental health care being provided to DDOC prisoners. See PLN, December 2005, pg. 1. The reports by The News Journal culminated in an agreement between the DDOC and U.S. Department of Justice to enact constitutional health care, which meets "general accepted professional standards." See accompanying story in this issue.

That agreement and accompanying findings have been stated to be a road map for the nearly dozen lawsuits against DDOC for prisoner deaths and injuries caused by the inept care provided by Correctional Medical Services (CMS) and its previous medical contractor, First Correctional Medical. Taylor's testimony comes in one of many wrongful lawsuits.

His statements show he had no grasp at all on the state of medical care provided, not a clue of how many prisoners died under his watch, failed to investigate complaints sent to him, and he felt he had no obligation to oversee prison medical staff. After 11 years of being the king of DDOC's hill, it's no wonder the medical crisis has fallen to the bottom of the pit, creating a miniature hell for those subject to it.

Taylor's greatest disconnect with what was transpiring under his watch was demonstrated when it came to testimony on the number of prisoner deaths. "We will have - I think the high death is two. On a given year we may have none. So our rate, mortality rate, can swing around pretty dramatically from none to something that reflects two. I think our highest is three in a calendar year," Taylor said while being deposed.

Taylor was then asked if three was the number of deaths for either 2002, 2003, or 2004. "I believe, yes," Taylor said. "So mortality rates I believe were comparable with the country, but in any given year, because of our size, a zero to three can be an aberration, I guess statistically, is what I would say, but raw numbers I believe our high is three and our low is zero in those years."

In actuality, there were 16 prisoner deaths in 2002, 20 in 2003, and 14 in 2004. Between 2000 and 2005, a total of 90 prisoners died in DDOC custody, or an average of 18 per year. That figure does not include the terminally ill prisoners DDOC gave a medical discharge to before they died.

Taylor further testified he does not recall receiving any calls or letters from family members complaining about prison medical care. He doesn't handle or track any such complaints if received. "They're typically farmed out to people to respond to the request," Taylor said. "I'll pin a note to the letter and say 'please look into,' to respond or address an issue."

Shortly after The News Journal's 2005 investigative reports were published, Gov. Ruth Minner said, "Commissioner Taylor has worked very hard in recent years to improve the health care provided to inmates in Delaware prisons." The truth of the matter came out in Taylor's deposition testimony.

Rather than personally overseeing medical care, Taylor relied exclusively on audits by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, which occurs every three years. He also relies on advice from his own Medical Review Committee.

"If they believe something is so far out of whack that they can't address it, that's when the issue comes up, and it may come to my attention to request a special audit," Taylor stated. He was asked if his committee has a set of procedures or guidelines. "I don't believe so, but I don't know." Taylor also said he never ordered an investigation on the quality of care or qualifications of those providing care because of a lawsuit.

As Commissioner of Corrections, one has the responsibility to assure services are provided and that employees are prepped to provide those services. Taylor, however, was the one prepped by his employees. Prior to Legislative hearings, Taylor required prep time with his staff. "They're typically preparing me, I don't prepare them," Taylor said. "I'm being fed what we think - what I think are relevant issues, make me aware of. Each legislator tends to have pet issues with trying to be current and have answers ready, that kind of thing."

Taylor said he never discussed medical care with the legislator or Governor prior to 2005. In fact, he believed the legislature to be more informed than him. "I chuckle because any legislature has their informants everywhere, and so they would be receiving information that I would never know about," said Taylor in deposition.

After 11 years, Taylor resigned his post effective February 1, 2007. In his place was put former Attorney General Carl C. Danberg, who was co-author of the settlement agreement between DDOC and the Justice Department.

That appointment comes too late for 24-year-old Demetrius Caldwell. He was found dead in his prison infirmary cell in January 2007. He had been receiving unspecified medical treatment for a month prior to his death.

Caldwell should have been in hospital, say critics. "Assuming he was ill because he was in the infirmary, someone sick enough to die belongs in a hospital," said Drewry Fennell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.

DDOC spokeswoman Gail Stalling Minor disagreed. She said Caldwell received "all the appropriate services he needed - that's what he was getting." Fennell said that attitude demonstrates the need for monitoring requiring in the settlement agreement.

"This just points out the need for continued monitoring of prisons," Fennell said. "We need to have someone in the state of Delaware who is able to monitor and respond to healthcare emergencies, who is an independent monitor."

Sources: The News Journal

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