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NaphCare, Oregon Jail’s Private Healthcare Provider, Required to Disclose Records in Detox Death Suit

by Mark Wilson

An Oregon federal court in January 2020 compelled NaphCare, Inc., the private medical care provider for the Washington County Jail (WCJ) in Hillsboro, to disclose lawsuits and financial records in a wrongful death action stemming from the June 2017 detox death of a detainee.

County officials terminated a jail health-care contract begun in 1998 with Corizon Health, Inc., following a $10 million damage award against the county and the Tennessee-based firm for the 2014 withdrawal-related death of a jail detainee. [PLN, May 2019, p.35]. Since then, the contract has been awarded to Alabama-based NaphCare, Inc., a private, family-owned company providing health care to more than 80,000 prisoners in 53 city and county jails and federal prisons throughout the nation.

On June 25, 2017, Dale Thomsen was booked into the WCJ, and NaphCare registered nurse Kathy Dement conducted an intake medical screening. She did not identify any signs of alcohol abuse or possible detox, court records show. But that evening Tammy Thamsen, wife of the 58-year-old, called the jail to warn that her husband had previously suffered a brain injury and currently suffered from a seizure disorder and alcoholism.

Tammy Thomsen made additional attempts to warn jail staff in the following days that her husband would need medical attention once he inevitably began to detox. WCJ officials had previously estimated that 80 percent of detainees entering the jail were at risk of suffering drug or alcohol withdrawal while in custody, and NaphCare’s contract specifically includes a responsibility to provide monitoring and programming for inmates “in the throes of detox.” Nevertheless, it is unclear whether her concerns were reported to NaphCare medical staff.

During the early morning hours of June 28, 2017, guard Jeff Smith reported that Dale Thomsen was hallucinating. Smith asked NaphCare licensed practical nurse Katie Black to evaluate Thomsen because he was “not acting normal.” Black saw that Thomsen was “very hyper verbal and anxious,” continually calling Smith “Jim” and asking him to “tell Debbie I’m going to be late.” She also noted that Thomsen had elevated blood pressure and a rapid pulse.

Black sent an alert to require follow-up monitoring of Thomsen’s abnormal vital signs and schedule him to see mental health staff. However, an alleged error in the NaphCare scheduling system prevented the mental health evaluation request from being seen until the next business day. Smith reported that “medical” determined that Thomsen was not detoxing but ordered him moved to a single cell.

By 7:30 a.m. on June 28, 2017, Thomsen became disruptive, talking to himself and kicking his cell door. He appeared confused and angry, complaining that he had been kidnapped and mistaking a blanket tied around his waist for a shirt. Guards moved Thomsen into an intake holding cell, where he continued “yelling obscenities” while ramming and kicking his cell door repeatedly for over three hours beginning around 8:30 a.m.

At about 11:48 a.m., a guard discovered that he had collapsed. WCJ staff performed CPR and other resuscitation measures until paramedics arrived. Thomsen was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest.

On behalf of her late husband’s estate, Tammy Thomsen brought a federal lawsuit against NaphCare, Washington County and several individual WCJ employees. A decade’s worth of documents were sought from NaphCare to determine its history and policies regarding prisoners suffering detox. After several months, Thomsen’s attorneys moved on January 21, 2020 to compel the company to comply with their request.

NaphCare objected, claiming that the request was vague, overbroad and that any information from previous litigation was already a matter of public record that Thomsen’s attorneys could access. But the court granted the motion, although it limited the time covered to a period beginning three years before Thomsen’s June 2017 death.

Meanwhile a concurrent battle was being waged over five years’ worth of financial records that Thomsen’s attorneys sought to determine NaphCare’s worth for purposes of requesting punitive damages. NaphCare resisted disclosure, arguing that the request came too soon and wasn’t appropriate “until plaintiff has made a prima facie showing of entitlement to recover punitive damages.” NaphCare also objected to disclosure of past records, arguing that only current financial information is relevant to the punitive damages issue.

Citing Pruett v. Erickson Air-Crane Co., 183 F.R.D. 248 (D. Or. 1998), the court held that a prima facie showing is not required, but it agreed with NaphCare that five years was too long a period, and it limited the company’s disclosure to financial documents for its current fiscal year. The court was also careful to note that additional financial information may be subsequently discoverable. See: Thomsen v. NaphCare, Inc., USDC (D. Or.), Case No. 3:19-cv-00969. 


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Related legal case

Thomsen v. NaphCare, Inc.