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$959,000 Paid by Pennsylvania County in Deaths of Two Detainees, Plus at Least $750,000 from PrimeCare

by Ashleigh N. Dye

For the 2018 deaths of two detainees at Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF), the county has agreed to pay a total of $959,000. Its privately contracted jail healthcare provider, PrimeCare Medical, reportedly agreed to pay another $750,000 in one case, plus an undisclosed amount to settle the other.

The first case involved the death from opiate withdrawal of detainee Frederick Adami, 52, on January 28, 2018. Booked into BCCF the day before for failure to pay child support, the father of five told a PrimeCare nurse at booking that he used 20 bags of heroin daily, taking the last the day before his arrest.

Though he complained of vomiting and chills, and the nurse noted his elevated blood pressure as well as difficulty walking, she was apparently willing to disbelieve what her own eyes should have told her — that withdrawal was likely to blame for his poor appearance, which she described as “inappropriate.” Why? According to the suit later filed on his behalf, the nurse noted that no withdrawal symptoms were “witnessed by any [guards] while in reception.”

So it was three hours later before any medication was ordered to treat Adami’s withdrawal. It was five hours before he got it. By that time his cellmate reported that Adami was vomiting frequently, but he said jailers and PrimeCare staff “blew him off,” the suit continued.

Adami was found dead in his cell the next morning from an enlarged heart, which is common among drug users. With the aid of attorneys Shanin Specter, David K. Inscho and Michael Caliveri of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against PrimeCare and the county in federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Because Adami was under PrimeCare’s supervision, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of three guards named in the suit on April 8, 2022. But it denied a similar motion by PrimeCare and the remaining county defendants.

At least four guards “knew Adami was alarmingly sick, was on medical watch, …  and ignored a serious medical need,” the Court said. So it denied summary judgment to them because “[a]n inmate’s right to treatment for a serious medical need is beyond question,” quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).

The Court also decided that a reasonable juror could determine “the County, through its policy, was deliberately indifferent to the needs of prisoners going through opiate withdrawal,” thereby opening the county to liability under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). See: Adami v. Cty. of Bucks, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65358 (E.D. Pa.).

Just over two months later, on June 15, 2022, county commissioners voted to approve a payment of $625,000 as part of what was reportedly a $1.375 million settlement of the case. The district court sealed the settlement, but PrimeCare reportedly paid the other $750,000. See: Adami v. Cty. of Bucks, USDC (E.D. Pa.), Case No. 2:19-cv-02187.

Ironically, at the same meeting where they coughed up their share of the settlement, county commissioners entered into a pair of contracts with PrimeCare totaling $210,660. What for? To provide medication-assisted treatment to detainees at the county lockup who are suffering substance abuse.

Another Wrongful Death,
Another Settlement

The county’s share of the other settlement was approved by commissioners at their meeting on September 7, 2022, providing $337,000 to the estate of Charles Freitag, Sr. The 57-year-old committed suicide at BCCF on August 25, 2018, a day after he was sentenced for crashing his pickup truck into his ex-wife’s house. Months earlier, he told a PrimeCare psychologist that he would need a follow up with a mental health professional after the sentencing hearing. However, the follow up was not scheduled until a date three days after the hearing, by which time he had taken his own life.

A suit was filed in the same court for his wrongful death by attorney Jonathan H. Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, alleging that jailers and PrimeCare staffers ignored warning signs of Freitag’s increasing suicidal distress in the weeks preceding his sentencing. They claimed that he denied feeling suicidal and argued they had a right to rely on those denials.

In similar fashion to the case over Adami’s death, Defendants filed for summary judgment, and the Court granted it to the guards on July 12, 2022. But it denied the same to PrimeCare and the County. Freitag “attempted suicide three times in the year preceding his incarceration,” the Court recalled.

“He also had a history of depression and anxiety. He had never been incarcerated before, was anxious about his sentencing, and ultimately received a sentence that was far more severe than he had anticipated,” the Court continued.

In fact, his suicide risk had been noted at booking, and “PrimeCare’s mental health supervisor subsequently instructed all mental health staff to ‘keep a close eye on’ Mr. Freitag as his sentencing approached,” the Court said. Therefore it concluded there was “ample evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Plaintiff was, in fact, particularly vulnerable to suicide.” See: Freitag v. Bucks Cty., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122564 (E.D. Pa.).

Also as it did in the Adami case, the Court sealed the settlement over Freitag’s death. Therefore the amount that PrimeCare paid in the settlement is unknown, though the Bucks County Courier-Times has filed a request for the settlement documents under the state’s Right to Know law. See: Freitag v. Bucks Cty., USDC (E.D. Pa.), Case No. 2:19-cv-05750.

PrimeCare Medical is a private company that provides healthcare to prisoners and detainees in Pennsylvania jails as well as those in four other states. The company has faced over two dozen lawsuits since 2009 alleging substandard medical or mental health care resulted in injury or death to prisoners. It has managed to keep details secret in most of the settlements it has entered, but before these two settlements, it was held liable for a total of $13,682,344 in six other cases since November 2017, plus some undisclosed share of another $545,000 awarded in two other cases since March 2016. [See: PLN, May 2022, p.1.] 

Additional source: Bucks County Courier Times

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