by Matthew Clarke
From 2014 through July 2018, at least 52 lawsuits were filed in federal court against Correct Care Solutions (CCS) – a private medical contractor based in Nashville, Tennessee – alleging failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners in Colorado jails. Six of the cases involved fatalities and two were settled for millions of dollars.
Jennifer Lobato, 38, was suffering from heroin withdrawal when she was booked into the Jefferson County jail in Golden, Colorado for shoplifting in March 2015. Though vomiting profusely, she was told she wouldn’t receive treatment until she cleaned up the mess she had made. About 20 minutes after her requests for medical care were ignored, her cellmate noticed she was no longer breathing.
Lobato, a mother of seven children, died of an easily-treatable electrolyte imbalance. Her family filed a lawsuit that named CCS, the jail’s privately-contracted medical provider, as a defendant. In November 2017, Jefferson County agreed to settle its part of the case for $2.5 million. The claims against CCS remain pending. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.38; Nov. 2015, p.63].
Kenneth McGill, 42, suffered a stroke while incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge at the same jail in September 2012, but his pleas for medical care went ignored for 16 hours. By then he had suffered irreversible damage that left him with a limp and prone to dizzy spells. He filed suit against CCS, and a jury awarded him $11 million. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.26].
Dr. James Brill was the medical director at the Jefferson County jail when McGill suffered his stroke. Brill testified that had a nurse called and informed him of the stroke, he would have ordered McGill transported to a hospital. Hours later, CCS fired him.
“I got a phone call from somebody in the corporate office saying, ‘You’re terminated,’” Dr. Brill said. “Two hours following that testimony, my job was done.”
CCS spokesman Jim Cheney said the company’s contract with Brill “was concluded by its terms when responsible [CCS] personnel provided him with notice that the contract would conclude.”
Brill did not buy that doublespeak, calling his firing “totally unethical.”
Cheney insisted that the termination “was not related in any manner to any testimony provided by Dr. Brill in an unrelated civil action.”
Brill has since filed a wrongful termination suit against CCS. “If a company can do this to me,” he said, “it can do it to you.”
In April 2014 at the Weld County jail in Greeley, Colorado, Barton Grubbs, 52, told a CCS intake nurse that he had taken “around 70 Valium,” while the trooper who was arresting him for drunk driving wasn’t looking. The nurse’s supervisor told her to call the jail’s medical provider. But the nurse didn’t believe Grubbs and didn’t make the call. He died the next day. His family filed suit, which went to trial in July 2018. The jury found in favor of CCS, while the county settled for $20,000. See: Smith v. Weld County Sheriff’s Office, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00714-PAB-STV.
At the Arapahoe County jail in Centennial, Colorado, Jeffrey Scott Lillis, 37, died of easily-treatable bacterial pneumonia and sepsis in December 2014. CCS medical staff had ignored his requests for treatment for days. His family filed suit against CCS and seven of its employees.
At the Mesa County jail in Grand Junction, Tomas Beauford, 24, who had the mental capacity of a six-year-old, suffered multiple epileptic seizures in the weeks before he died. CCS employees refused to give him his anti-seizure medication. The family’s federal lawsuit named CCS as a defendant.
When she was booked into the Pueblo County jail in June 2013, Tanya Martinez was suffering from alcohol withdrawal. The 36-year-old mother of two was experiencing a seizure when a guard delivered dinner. He asked a CCS nurse to look in on her but the nurse didn’t bother, and Martinez died soon thereafter. Her family has sued CCS.
John Patrick Walter, 53, lost 30 pounds in less than three weeks while he was held at the Fremont County jail in Cañon City in August 2014. His ultimately fatal deterioration was caused by withdrawal from the prescription anti-anxiety drug Klonopin. A wrongful death suit was subsequently filed against CCS, the medical provider at the jail.
And at the Montrose County jail, Dillon Blodgett, 23, advised CCS staff that he was having suicidal thoughts when he was booked into the facility in November 2015. Charged with criminal impersonation, false reporting, resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer, Blodgett was also wanted for escaping a community corrections facility. He was placed in a maximum-security solitary cell, where he was found hanging in January 2016. He died three days later at a hospital.
“Despite reporting suicidal ideations and a specific method of a recent suicide attempt in custody, Mr. Blodgett was not properly evaluated for risk of suicide, placed on suicide watch or provided proper mental health treatment and remained in ... solitary confinement,” stated his family’s attorney, Dan Shaffer.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs recently announced that it had invited proposals from other companies to provide medical care at its jail. It has contracted with CCS for the past 15 years at a cost of over $63 million.
The company has contracts with 14 detention facilities in Colorado to provide health care to over 4,000 prisoners. Nationwide, it contracts with more than 400 local, state and federal facilities housing over 302,000 prisoners.
In Nebraska, CCS has faced 23 federal lawsuits since 2008 related to its provision of medical care, including four cases at the Douglas County jail in Omaha.
While awaiting trial on charges of distributing meth in June 2017, Edward Liza, 64, complained of chest pains and exhibited confusion after sleep and appetite loss due to paralysis on the right side of his face caused by Bell’s Palsy. CCS refused to test him for a stroke, he said, telling him “it was not in the budget.” Only after transferring to a Wisconsin facility was it determined that Liza had suffered a stroke which went undiagnosed and untreated by CCS for months.
Tevin White, 26, got into an altercation at the Douglas County jail in April 2017 that left him with a broken bone “in or near the hip.” White, who was jailed on charges of making threats to the mother of his child, said he was told CCS medical staff would not see him unless “there was blood, or a bone was sticking out.” When he was finally X-rayed three weeks later, it was discovered that his hip was fractured. He had surgery the next month, but doctors advised him he will likely need as many as three future hip replacement surgeries.
In June 2016, burglary suspect Duoth Deng, 23, arrived at the jail and told CCS staff he was experiencing pain during urination and suspected he had a sexually transmitted disease. CCS staff advised him to “drink more water” and “use a condom next time.” When he was sentenced to a Nebraska state prison six months later, he was immediately diagnosed with chlamydia.
“For six months, he was peeing fire,” said his attorney, Tom White.
Roger Cook was jailed for violation of a protection order in October 2016. The 55-year-old, who stands six feet tall, lost 64 pounds over the next six months. Weighing just 125 pounds when he was released, he collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died 10 days later. White, who is also representing Cook’s family in a lawsuit over his death, said when Cook requested medical attention from CCS staff he “was repeatedly denied.”
“You can’t fake an X-ray,” White added. “And it would have been pretty obvious, even to a layperson, that Mr. Cook was very ill. He easily could have died in their custody.”
CCS has been sued 86 times in federal court in New York State since 2010.
At the Westchester County jail in New York, Rashad McNulty, awaiting sentencing on a federal drug charge, died of a heart attack in 2013 despite complaining for four hours of chest and stomach pains. The New York Commission of Correction found McNulty’s death could have been prevented had CCS sent him to a hospital in a timely manner. It faulted two nurses, Paulette Smith and Josh Boggi, and an on-call doctor, Raul Ulloa. Smith had accused McNulty of faking his symptoms.
McNulty’s fiancé has sued both the county and CCS in a case that remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. See: Melvin v. County of Westchester, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 7:14-cv-02995-KMK-LMS.
“Nobody deserves to be treated this way when there are clear cardiac symptoms and so these hearings will help disclose why this individual was treated so poorly,” said county legislator Ken Jenkins. “It is important to understand why [CCS] received this contract and what services we are getting because the report from the state would indicate that taxpayers are paying a lot of money for poor service in return.”
One of the guards at the jail who witnessed McNulty’s death, Kevin Grant, claimed in a report that he was suffering from “acute stress reaction” because he “had to endure and watch him take his last breath because he was denied medical treatment by medical staff.”
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who had renewed the jail’s $43.8 million contract with CCS in March 2015, stood by the company, denying in court filings that the care provided to McNulty was insufficient.
In another case involving health care at the Westchester County jail, prisoner Brandon Rodriquez, 19, who is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, wrote in a December 2015 federal complaint that due to inadequate medical treatment he suffered “extreme pain, discomfort, and eventually, permanent disability.”
Meanwhile, as prisoners continue to receive poor medical care in jails that contract with CCS, sometimes resulting in their preventable deaths, the number of lawsuits against the company continues to grow.
Sources: www.gazette.com, www.thedenverchannel.com, www.nbcnewyork.com, www.omaha.com, www.gjsentinel.com, www.lohud.com
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Related legal cases
Smith v. Weld County Sheriff’s Office
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00714-PAB-STV|
Melvin v. County of Westchester
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 7:14-cv-02995-KMK-LMS|