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Correct Care Solutions Redux: Poor Medical Care Leads to More Deaths, Lawsuits

by Ed Lyon

Correct Care Solutions (CCS) is one of the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare providers for prisoners, with annual revenue exceeding $1 billion. The Nashville, Tennessee-based firm supplies medical and mental health services to more than 100 state and federal prisons and 330 jails in 38 states, plus immigration detention centers. It also has operations in Australia.

Over the years, CCS has acquired several other prison medical providers, including Correctional Healthcare Companies, ConMed, Physicians Network Association and the mental health care subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group.

According to October 2018 news reports, CCS has been named as a defendant in at least 1,395 federal lawsuits since 2003 – most of which were dismissed. There is no way to aggregate the number of suits filed in state courts nationwide. At least 28 medical-related deaths have occurred at facilities where CCS provides healthcare. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.32].

A lawsuit over one of those deaths was filed by the mother of Kendra Nelson, who died at a jail in Portsmouth, Virginia in July 2016. Nelson began suffering from heroin withdrawal the morning after her arrest. A deputy documented her withdrawal symptoms, but CCS staff medically cleared her three times, despite her seizures and steadily worsening symptoms, believing that Nelson was faking them. She died later that day. Her mother is suing CCS and former Sheriff Bill Watson, who reportedly called Nelson “nothing but a druggie.”

In March 2016, prisoner William Otis Thrower, Sr. made repeated pleas for medical help at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail (HRRJ) in Virginia. He said he couldn’t sleep, and was in extreme pain and constipated. His sick call requests and emergency grievances were denied; he died the next day.

Another HRRJ prisoner, Henry Clay Stewart, Jr., 60, who had been arrested for violating probation on an underlying shoplifting charge, died on August 6, 2016. He also had submitted repeated requests for medical care that were ignored. In the two weeks before his death, Stewart’s weight dropped from 167 to 132 pounds; he died due to a perforated stomach ulcer. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.63; Jan. 2017, p.44].

Thrower, Stewart and deceased HRRJ prisoner Jamycheal Mitchell’s survivors are represented by attorney Mark Krudys in lawsuits against the jail and CCS. Krudys cited other cases involving prisoners who were denied care by CCS, too. Assistant Jail Superintendent Lind Bryant said the HRRJ will provide legal representation to CCS, but any liabilities resulting from negligence findings by a judge will have to be paid by the company.

On November 23, 2018, the Daily Press reported that CCS and HRRJ had agreed to pay $625,000 to settle the lawsuit over Stewart’s death. The medical contractor paid $525,000 while the jail paid $100,000. They did not admit liability. See: Austin v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Vir.), Case No. 2:17-cv-00291-RJK.

In December 2017, Forsyth County, North Carolina paid $180,000 to settle claims in a wrongful death case filed by the widow of Dino Vann Nixon, a 55-year-old prisoner who died at the county jail in August 2013. A doctor working for CCS, the jail’s healthcare provider, did not continue Nixon’s Xanax prescription, then misdiagnosed his withdrawal symptoms as alcoholism despite his having no history of alcohol problems.

Xanax-addicted patients are supposed to be gradually weaned from the drug. Stopping the medication cold-turkey caused Nixon to die of benzodiazepine withdrawal, aggravated by coronary artery disease and an abnormally enlarged heart. [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.22].

Nixon was one of five prisoners who have died at the Forsyth County jail since CCS began providing healthcare.

When Arkansas state prisoner Winfred Lawrence began suffering from a cough and breathing problems in September 2014, his requests for medical care were denied. He self-medicated with Hall’s cough drops purchased from the commissary and continued pleading for help. His condition – pneumonia – worsened, and he suffered septic shock while CCS staff continued to ignore his pleas.

With his lungs fatally compromised, Lawrence died in an intensive care unit in November 2014. A medical directive note he submitted that requested, simply, “SAVE MY LIFE” was withheld from his family, which has filed a lawsuit against CCS. Despite Lawrence’s death and other problems with the company, the Arkansas Department of Corrections renewed its contract with CCS, at a cost of $58 million for fiscal year 2018.

Three prisoners died at the Luzerne County jail in Pennsylvania during June and July 2017, and a fourth died on January 9, 2018. During a county council meeting, Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher took CCS to task for staff shortages and poor performance.

Company representative Donald Doherty declined public comment, citing “medical confidentiality.” Kelleher responded by requesting a closed-­door executive council session to further examine CCS’s other “contractual concerns.”

From August to November 2017, the jail in Fulton County, Georgia experienced five deaths, for which the county blamed CCS and another contractor, the Morehouse School of Medicine. Fulton County terminated its contract with CCS in November 2017.

El Paso County, Texas recently dropped CCS as its jail’s health care provider in favor of Armor Correctional Health Services. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) has since conducted an audit, which the El Paso County jail failed – putting Armor and the jail on probation in late 2017. Armor blamed the deficiencies on its predecessor, CCS, and said it believes it can now pass an accreditation review.

Meanwhile, a 2015 audit by the U.S. Department of Justice found CCS had failed to provide required staffing levels for 34 out of 37 months, from December 2010 through December 2013, at the Reeves County Detention Center in Texas.

In Washington state, Clark, Cowlitz, Kitsap and Pierce counties are being sued in cases that allege inadequate medical care by CCS, dating back to 2013. Pierce County prosecutor Grace Kingman said a jury could find the level of care provided by CCS and one of the companies it acquired, Conmed Healthcare Management, “incompetent, unprofessional and morally reprehensible.”

In one case, a Clark County prisoner died at the hands of jailers while in the throes of a schizophrenic episode resulting from medication denials. Four Cowlitz County prisoners died from lack of medical care, while a Kitsap County prisoner died during heroin withdrawal. A Pierce County prisoner who was denied medications suffered two seizures, causing him to fall and resulting in eye socket and wrist fractures, as well as a traumatic brain injury.

Pierce County prosecutor Don Hamilton is suing CCS – which assumed the county jail’s medical contract after its 2012 acquisition of Conmed – for breach of contract and inadequate healthcare. CCS, in turn, has sued the county for breach of contract, seeking payment and legal defense for the multiple lawsuits filed against it. Pierce County is countersuing to moot CCS/Conmed’s claims, seeking restitution for denied medical services and damages caused by the company’s misconduct.

Scott Millward died while incarcerated at the Teton County jail in Wyoming in 2015, after being booked on a DUI charge. The son of a former sheriff, Millward died “due to cardiovascular disease with hypertension,” with poor medical care cited as a contributing factor. “His blood pressure was off the chart when he got brought in, but he wasn’t seen until the following day,” said attorney Darold Killmer. “There’s a hospital down the street. We drove it and it takes 55 seconds to get there, but they didn’t send him to the emergency room. The guy had tremors, and they told him to get back into his cell and sleep it off. Thirty-six hours later he was dead of a heart attack.”

In June 2018, CCS was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Laurence Parks, 69, who is also suing Marion County, Indiana, as well as the county’s sheriff, claiming that he was denied a costly drug to treat his kidney cancer for a month. Rather than the $20,000 treatment, Parks accused CCS staff of giving him ibuprofen.

“They were trying to stall,” he said. “They thought, ‘Oh, well, he’ll probably get out soon.’ I knew what they were talking about. I would hear them.”

After waiting 36 days, Parks finally received treatment. He then pleaded guilty to charges of cocaine possession and resisting law enforcement and left the jail in October 2017, sentenced to time served plus probation. No longer incarcerated, he continues receiving the cancer drug and Medicare covers its cost.

Also in June 2018, Broward County, Florida Sheriff Scott Israel awarded a five-year, $160 million contract to CCS to provide healthcare to 37,000 detainees in the four jails run by the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), bypassing low bidder Armor, which had held the contract since 2004.

Over the last seven years, 15 BSO jail deaths were attributed to poor medical care from Armor, which was a regular contributor to the campaigns of county sheriffs, beginning with former Sheriff Ken Jenne (who resigned in 2007 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges). CCS contributed $1,000 to Sheriff Israel’s re-election campaign.

Armor was a frequent target of lawsuits filed on behalf of BSO prisoners and their families by Fort Lauderdale attorney Greg Lauer, who said when it comes to private medical providers, “it’s all about oversight.”

“At their core, every for-profit correctional healthcare company is the same, and they are trying to do what for-profit companies do, and that is to make money,” he explained. “If the Sheriff does not devote appropriate resources to meaningful oversight, then Correct Care Solutions will do what it was designed to do, and that is to turn a profit at the expense of the inmates and taxpayers.”

CCS also won a bid in 2017 to replace Armor at the jail in Nassau County, New York, which accused Armor of “placing inmates’ health in jeopardy.” [See: PLN, July 2017, p.30]. But the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department stopped negotiations with CCS after the New York Civil Liberties Union complained about the volume of litigation against the company.

“Don’t hire Correct Care Solutions,” said NYCLU’s Susan Gottehrer. “They have a history similar to Armor’s and they put profit over people.” 

Sources: Virginian-Pilot, WAVY-TV, www.thedailybeast.com, www.gazette.com, www.journalnow.com, www.spokesman.com, www.timesleader.com, www.indystar.com, www.usnews.com, www.wpxi.com, www.florida­bulldog.org, Huffington Post, Daily Press