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Media Tip Cast Light on Medical Neglect as Prisoner Starved

Absent a tip to the Associated Press, the death of a prisoner at Kentucky State Prison would have remained shrouded in darkness. The tip led to an investigation that uncovered lapses in medical care as the prisoner starved to death.

Prisoner James Kenneth Embry, 57, had mental health issues that was treated with anti-anxiety medication. He quit taking it in May 2013, leading to a slow deterioration in his mental health. Embry recognized the break down.

He saw lead psychologist Jean Hinkebein on December 3, telling her he felt anxious and paranoid. She denied his request to restate his medications because she concluded he did not have significant mental health issues. That conclusion was made despite Embry repeatedly talking about hurting himself, an internal investigation found.

A week later, Embry was moved to an observation cell after he began banging his head on his cell door. He refused meals and told a prison psychologist, “I don’t have any hope.”

Embry, who had three years left on a nine-year sentence for drug offences continued to threatened self-harm and refused most food over the next few weeks. On occasion, he would drink tea. He was found to be weak and shaky on January 4 by a nurse who advised him to resume earing.

A request nine days later by medical stagers to move Embry to the infirmary was denied by advanced practice registered nurse Bob Wilkinson. His reasoning was that Embry had been taken off a hunger strike watch. Just five and a half hours later, he was pronounced dead after being unresponsive in his cell. A corner ruled his death as suicide caused primarily by dehydration with starvation and other medical ailments as contributors.

Three days after Embry’s death, Dr. Steve Hiland signed off on a nurse’s note approving removal of Embry from hunger. Strike watch for drinking tea. Hiland told internal investigators that he considers a hunger strike consists of missing “six of eight meals,” and it ends when a prisoner eats or drinks anything. He also told prison staff they “usually don’t have to worry about it because they (the prisoners) eventually give up.”

Before his death, Embry refused 35 of 36 meals. Internal investigators were told by medical staff that they were either unsure of hunger strike protocols or that Hiland and Wilkinson forbade those procedures from being used.

Hiland, who once was found by a federal court overseeing a prisoner medical complaint provided care “so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all,” was fired by state prison officials. Hinkebein and an associate have been placed on administrative leave as the state moves to fire them.

Embry, who received no visits while in prison, was buried in a potter’s field near the prison after no one claimed his body. Thanks to the tip, the circumstances of his death came to light.

Source: Associated Press

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