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Pennsylvania Detainee’s Estate Claims Financial Incentive Motive for Denial of Medical Care; $325,000 Settlement

Pennsylvania Detainee’s Estate Claims Financial Incentive Motive for Denial of Medical Care; $325,000 Settlement

by David Reutter

A Pennsylvania federal district court ordered medical personnel employed by Correctional Medical Care, Inc. (CMC) to face claims brought by the estate of a pre-trial detainee who died from alleged deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs due to the company’s financial incentive to reduce costs.

CMC is the private medical contractor for the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF). Prior to her arrest on retail theft, possession of drug paraphernalia and DUI charges on September 22, 2011, Patricia Ann Pollock, 25, had told her mother she was severely nauseous.

The next day, she informed the intake nurse she could not move her left arm and was in pain, and that she had been taking the anti-depressant Clonazepam for two years. Later that day, another nurse reported Pollock “to be yelling in her cell that she could not breathe, that she was experiencing severe chest pain, and that her chest felt ‘like something [was] pressing all the way down to [her] back’”

An echocardiogram revealed an abnormally elevated heart rate. Dr. Margaret Carrillo was made aware of Pollock’s condition and test results. A third nurse found that Pollock’s condition had deteriorated, which Dr. Carrillo determined to be consistent with benzodiazepine withdrawal. Without physically examining Pollock, Dr. Carrillo increased her prescribed medication for withdrawal symptoms.

Pollock informed a fourth nurse “that she had been vomiting blood, that she was suffering from rib pain and weakness, and that she could not breathe.” Carrillo examined her later that day, but ordered no intravenous fluids or diagnostic testing despite Pollock’s complaints of “feeling weak and experiencing dry heaves.”

That night, Nurse Mary Rhinehart observed Pollock “naked and wrapped in a sheet for most of the evening shift of the medical unit” and unable “to drink fluids ... without the assistance of her cellmate.” Rhinehart took no action.

Guards found Pollock in great distress on the evening of September 27 and requested that CMC staff evaluate her. After examining Pollock and taking her vital signs, Dr. Carrillo finally ordered her to be sent to an emergency room.

Once there, Pollock was quickly diagnosed with massive organ failure due to “a large abscess of her tricuspid valve consistent with bacterial endocarditis.” She died during an airlift to a hospital for emergency surgery.

The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Pollock’s estate, which raised both federal and state law claims. In September 2013, the court granted the motion as to one defendant but not as to the others, including Carrillo and Rhinehart.

“Here, Dr. Carrillo had been aware of Pollock’s shortness of breath, severe chest pain, abnormal echocardiogram, and deteriorating condition for at least thirty-six hours before she personally saw Pollock for a diagnostic,” the district court wrote. Further, even when Pollock had deteriorated to the point of vomiting, having rib pain and being unable to breathe, Dr. Carrillo continued the ineffective course of treatment without ordering further diagnostic tests.

It was not until September 27, 2011, “when Pollock was experiencing massive organ failure and required emergency surgery, that Dr. Carrillo referred her to the emergency room,” the court noted. “Plaintiff further alleges Dr. Carrillo did not make these decisions with regard to the serious risks to Pollock’s health, but rather because she was financially motivated not to order diagnostic testing and/or refer patients for outside treatment.”

The district court rejected Nurse Rhinehart’s position that Dr. Carrillo was responsible for Pollock’s care, noting that Rhinehart had failed to notify Carrillo of Pollock’s worsening condition. The court found the estate’s allegations stated a claim of deliberate indifference against both Carrillo and Rhinehart; as such, their motion to dismiss was denied.

The defendants filed motions for summary judgment in January 2015, which were also denied by the district court.

On July 13, 2015, the court approved a $325,000 settlement between the parties. The settlement funds included $113,750 in attorney fees, $37,289.50 in costs and a $1,229.50 lien to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The remainder was paid to Pollock’s estate. See: Kenney v. Montgomery County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:13-cv-02590-EGS.

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Related legal case

Kenney v. Montgomery County