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Pennsylvania: Wexford Settles Case Involving Death of Prisoner’s Baby

Pennsylvania: Wexford Settles Case Involving Death of Prisoner’s Baby

A federal civil rights complaint filed in March 2013 accused employees of Wexford Health Sources of failing to provide appropriate medical care to a pregnant prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County Prison (WCP), resulting in the death of her nearly 8-month-old unborn son.

The suit was filed by Tiffany Pollitt and her husband, Brian C. Camp, Sr. Pollitt learned she was pregnant in January 2012, and an ultrasound five months later showed a healthy baby with no abnormalities. Pollitt was in the custody of WCP on July 28, 2012 when she was exercising with a volleyball in an outdoor gym.

She was accosted by two other prisoners, Gabriella Wade and LeAnn Armstrong, who demanded that Pollitt give them the ball. As she argued with Wade, Armstrong tried to take the volleyball and hit Pollitt hard in the abdomen. Pollitt confronted Armstrong about hitting her when she was pregnant. A guard arrived, issued Pollitt a disciplinary report for creating a disturbance and placed her in solitary confinement.

Pollitt awoke the next day with uterine cramping, tightness in her lower back and vaginal spotting. Her requests for a sick call form or to see a nurse were denied by the on-duty guard. Likewise, when she went for a hearing on the disciplinary charge on July 30, she was told her medical complaints had nothing to do with the hearing. She was sentenced to 30 days in segregation.

The following day, Pollitt was taken to a scheduled, routine prenatal visit. She informed the doctor about the trauma to her abdomen and the symptoms she had experienced; the vaginal spotting had subsided though she continued to experience the other symptoms. The doctor found no problems, but advised Pollitt to contact WCP staff if her symptoms returned.

The symptoms returned on August 3, 2012, and for the next six days Wexford staff did little but observe and administer over-the-counter painkillers. That morning, Pollitt’s vaginal spotting returned.

Nurse Theresa Pataski was advised by Pollitt of recent events, and told her to take two Tylenol pills, to lie on her side and to inform a guard if her pain worsened. Pollitt’s pain increased over the next few hours, and two medical employees came to her cell. When they could not detect a fetal heartbeat, Pollitt was told she would see a doctor.

As the day went on, she became more and more upset because she was not being treated and had not seen a physician. Although Wexford’s doctor for WCP, Mohammed Ali, was notified of Pollitt’s symptoms, he never examined her and his care consisted of ordering a urine drip and monitoring of her vital signs.

Pollitt was seen by a mental health counselor who noted she was “upset and crying regarding current housing status, being pregnant.” The counselor wrote that Pollitt appeared to “exaggerate recent events leading to current DC status and medical housing placement,” and “continued however to exhibit catastrophic thinking patterns and unrealistic expectations regarding disciplinary, custody, and medical procedures.”

Despite Pollitt’s insistence that she could not feel her baby moving, WCP nurses insisted their exams had found fetal movement. Nurses Pataski, Jennifer Harr, Denise Layton and Barbara Currier conducted an exam on August 4, 2012, pursuant to Dr. Ali’s orders. Then, two days later, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Donald Graham conducted an exam. All said they felt the baby move and that everything was fine.

“Over the next couple of days, Ms. Pollitt told anyone who would listen that she was in severe pain, that she needed to see an obstetrician, and she was deathly afraid that something bad was happening to her baby,” her complaint stated. No one listened or took action, however.

On August 9, at 1:00 a.m., Pollitt could no longer tolerate the pain and repeatedly pushed the emergency call button in her cell. Nurse Ed Poleski arrived; he took her vital signs and gave her two Tylenol tablets. Within the hour, the process was repeated with another nurse.

When Pollitt continued to press the emergency button, guards turned it off. She then beat on her cell door with her shoe. Guards told her to “grow up,” asked what she expected them to do and wished her “better luck with the next shift.”

By 6 a.m., Pollitt had bled all over the floor and commode. WCP staff finally decided something was wrong and she was taken to a local hospital.

“Instead of getting Tiffany and her baby the help she needed, they waiting until Tiffany was laying on the floor bleeding to death to do anything. By then it was too late,” said her attorney, John Mizner.

An ultrasound found her baby did not have a heartbeat. Efforts to naturally deliver the baby failed, and a Cesarean section was performed. Pollitt’s son, Brian C. Camp, Jr., was stillborn; his cause of death was placental abruption.

Pollitt’s lawsuit alleged that the medical care, diagnosis, treatment and services provided by Wexford’s employees were negligently performed in a careless manner and were not in accord with professional standards, causing Pollitt mental, emotional and physical pain and suffering, as well as her son’s death.

Mizner said Pollitt was “a mother who lost her baby because, even though she did everything she could to protect her baby, no one at Wexford Health – who were responsible for giving her and her baby the medical care they required – listened, and nobody cared.”

The parties engaged in contested discovery, with the district court granting in part the plaintiffs’ motion to compel on September 29, 2014, warning the Wexford defendants against frustrating discovery in the case. For example, the court noted that Wexford’s reluctance to produce an unredacted copy of a publicly-available contract was “not well-taken,” though the court declined to impose sanctions. Separately, the court held that the failure of one of the defendants to attend a deposition was contemptuous.

The case subsequently settled in February 2015 under undisclosed terms. See: Pollitt v. Wexford Health Services, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:13-cv-00082-TFM.


Additional source: Erie Times-News


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Related legal case

Pollitt v. Wexford Health Services