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Undisclosed Settlement in Kentucky Case a Textbook Case of Negligent Privatized Prison Medical Care

The provision of medical care is an expensive proposition regardless of whether a citizen or prisoner is in need of care. Tight budgets have pushed many jails and prisons to turn to prison profiteers to provide medical and mental health care to detainees and prisoners. When privatization is adopted, it is hailed as a means to save taxpayer dollars by setting a cap on the costs and moving liability to the private vendor.

The human suffering that medical privatization causes is highlighted only when there is a huge settlement or someone dies. As PLN has chronicled over nearly three decades, privatization is wrought with understaffing, a lack of basic treatment, and the avoidance of referrals to specialists or an outside hospital. For private vendors, every dollar saved is another dollar in profits. Lawsuits and the few cases that result in a settlement are just the cost of doing business.

An August 2019 undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit at Kentucky’s Grant County Detention Center (GCDC) is a perfect case study in all that is wrong with privatized prison medical care. In 2009, GCDC entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to remedy unconstitutional conditions of confinement, including the delivery of medical care. Over the next seven years, DOJ inspected GCDC on several occasions, and each time it found the delivery of medical care was below minimum constitutional standards.

Michelle Kindoll, 43, was arrested for heroin possession and booked into GCDC on May 5, 2015. It was noted at booking that she was a heroin addict and expected to experience withdrawal symptoms. She suffered such symptoms, and on May 18 she began experiencing symptoms of a stroke.

For the next three days, “she suffered numbness in her right leg, difficulty holding her eye open, overall weakness, inability to walk, memory loss, inability to talk, and other symptoms,” Kindoll’s civil rights complaint alleged.

When a guard contacted nurse Debbie Preston, who worked for GCDC’s medical vendor Southern Health Partners, to report that Kindoll could not feel her leg, Preston said “OK” but did not assess Kindoll.

The DOJ repeatedly noted the need to appoint a physician medical director at GCDC to ensure medical staff were properly trained and supervised in providing proper care. That was never done, so nurses were allowed to deliver care without a physician’s supervision.

Two days after Kindoll began exhibiting stroke symptoms, Preston allegedly misinterpreted the results of a neurological test and failed to record vitals. Preston cleared Kindoll to be placed in isolation despite the fact Kindoll said she couldn’t feel her leg and her arm was curling up at times.

Kindoll’s efforts to obtain medical care by knocking on her cell door was reported by guard Jessica Helton as “hindering jail operations.” The next day, May 20, Kindoll fell on the way to the shower, but was still escorted to it despite dragging her right leg. She was unable to stand, talk or get dressed when guards returned 20 minutes later, but she was merely placed back into her cell 40 minutes later without medical care being summoned.

Finally, on May 21, and after three days of exhibiting stroke symptoms, Kindoll was taken to a hospital, where she “suffered a series of cerebrovascular accidents and a serious stroke.” After her release, she “experienced a difficult rehabilitation period and still suffers memory loss, difficulty speaking, and serious mobility loss.”

Once privatized medical care is implemented into a facility, the private vendor and its staff often become the gatekeepers when detainees present acute medical conditions. At GCDC, Kindoll never saw a doctor and one was never informed of her condition. Companies such as Southern Health Partners can save money by putting nurses in charge, and lawsuits are either paid by an insurance company or billed as a business expense.

For persons like Kindoll, it means a life of disability, and as PLN has reported, it has resulted in death for others in similar situations. Is saving taxpayer dollars when such inhumane treatment is the result the mark of an ever-evolving civilized society? See: Kindoll v. Southern Health Partners Inc., et al., U.S.D.C. (E.D. Kentucky), Case No. 2:17-cv-00084. 

 

Related legal case

Kindoll v. Southern Health Partners Inc., et al.