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Lawsuit Claims Denial of Medical Care Nearly Killed Prisoner at Colorado Jail

by Matt Clarke

A former Colorado jail prisoner whose medical bills exceeded $2 million filed a lawsuit alleging a private health care provider at the jail denied him treatment until guards overruled them and transported him to a hospital. He was then airlifted to a Denver medical center where he nearly died. 

Jeremy Laintz was booked into the Pueblo County Detention Center in October 2016. He began having health problems soon after arriving while he was still a pretrial detainee. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to violating a protective order and was ordered to serve 90 days concurrent with a prior sentence for drug possession.

According to court documents filed by Laintz’s attorneys, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, who have successfully represented prisoners in other cases, the jail was “a trainwreck.” 

“It’s so overcrowded there,” they wrote, “... the jail is built to hold 509 people, and it’s most efficient when it’s at about 80 percent capacity. But during the first six months of last year, the average number of inmates was 777.” They added, “the facility is breaking down. It’s filthy. There are bugs coming out of the drains. It’s a really bad place.” 

Soon after Laintz arrived, he began having difficulty breathing and was in such intense pain that he could barely walk. He had obvious signs of an infection, but Correctional Health Partners (CHP) staff gave him an EKG test, which does not detect infections. After the EKG showed normal results, they simply ignored his symptoms.

A guard noticed that Laintz “looked kind of yellowish and was having a hard time walking and thought medical should see him,” but CHP employees didn’t visit his cell for another four days. When they did, they found his blood pressure was extremely low – “something like 85 over 50.” They also ran blood tests, which had abnormal results, but still did not give Laintz antibiotics that could have easily cured him.

Finally, guards became so alarmed that they “started calling medical, saying he was turning yellow, he was urinating and defecating on himself, he can’t sit up.” They overrode CHP staff and called EMTs, who discovered Laintz had a blood pressure of “around 70 over 50.” The physician assistant who had been supervising Laintz’s health care told the EMTs to “bring him down to medical and see if you can get an IV into him.” But Laintz told them not to bother because the last time he was in the medical unit they left him in a filthy cell alone and in excruciating pain for six hours. The guards finally told the EMTs to take him to a hospital. Once there, the staff determined his condition was critical and had him life-flighted to Denver. 

While this was going on, the jail’s health services administrator called Laintz’s mother and told her he was doing fine but was engaging in forced hyperventilation to get a trip to the hospital. He asked her to tell her son to stop hyperventilating. 

St. Anthony Hospital in Denver contacted Laintz’s mother and told her to come at once because he had less than a 10 percent chance of survival. He lived, but lost part of his left lung and six toes, and had to have a heart valve replaced due to endocarditis – an infection common among IV drug users like Laintz, and easily diagnosed and treated. 

According to court pleadings, the driving force behind the denial of medical services at the jail was CHP’s attempt to save money in order to increase profits. That reportedly led the company to use nurses and EMTs to diagnose prisoners, which was outside the scope of their licenses, and to claim that any prisoner seeking medical care was “faking.” The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August 2018, remains pending. See: Laintz v. Correctional Health Partners, LLC, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:18-cv-02122-DDD-STV. 

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Sources: chieftain.com, westword.com

Related legal case

Laintz v. Correctional Health Partners, LLC