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Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners

As of June 14, Cummins had 963 positive cases of coronavirus out of the 1,900 prisoners housed there, with 65 positive staff cases. Prisoners Derick Coley, Morris Davis and Jim Wilson all contracted the virus and died suddenly and with little contact from the prison.

For-profit provider Wellpath is in charge of health care at the prison. According to NPR affiliate KUAR, at the time of Coley’s death “it appears that the most trained medical staff in the building that night were licensed practical nurses.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Coley was serving a 20-year sentence for a “terroristic act in relation to a shooting.” His girlfriend, Cece Tate, stated that Coley, 29, had stayed in contact with her and their daughter using a contraband cell phone.

Tate tested positive in April and all calls ceased. Tate and Coley’s sister, Tytiuna Harris, made several calls to the prison only to be rebuffed. Harris said she was not told of Coley’s medical condition. Tate was told after repeated calls for updates on his condition that Coley was feeling better, persuading her not to call back. On May 3 at 1:37 a.m. Tate received a call from the chaplain saying Coley had died. The coroner’s report said Coley died after a “medical incident” occurring during  transfer from his barracks.

Morris Davis, 70, was serving 10 years for manslaughter. His brother, Montey Davis, said he didn’t know Davis was sick until a hospital representative called, asking if medical staff could “unplug” him from the ventilator. “It’s just a mystery to me how all that happened, and why they didn’t call me as soon as he was checked in,” stated Montey of his brother, who died May 8.

Jim Wilson, 60, was serving a life sentence for rape. His sister, Martha Binion, said she was unaware anything was wrong until she received a call from one of his cell mates, saying that Wilson had been hospitalized for COVID-19 a week previously. That same day, she received a call from the ADOC to say that her brother had been in intensive care for two days. “I said, ‘Why did y’all not call me when he first went to the hospital?’ I don’t understand,” commented Binion.

Wilson had underlying medical conditions. He suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and needed a new kidney. Binion was not notified until four hours after his May 26 death.

ADOC spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said any prisoners’ loved ones can receive updates on their medical conditions by contacting the medical administrator’s office at the prison — but only if the prisoner has signed an authorization for that individual. Automatic notification is made to the prisoner’s emergency contacts as soon as he or she is hospitalized. She said that contact information is often outdated. She refused to comment on conversations between prisons and any specific prisoners or their loved ones. 


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