Prison medical suits show patterns: Meds stopped, treatment delayed


Prisoners are notoriously litigious, one reason why Corizon and the companies that merged in 2011 to form it — Prison Health Services and Correctional Medical Services — are named in several hundred lawsuits and reports examined by The Palm Beach Post.

Some suits are clearly frivolous — an injured thumb, for instance.

However, cases involving serious injury or death typically allege the same type of problems: key medications stopped or changed, fatal delays in diagnosis or treatment, and failures to react promptly to clear-cut crises.

Some occurred before Florida inked a five-year, $1.09 billion contract with the company. Others have emerged since.

The repeated lapses in care, say critics, represent a pattern.

Federal privacy laws bar Corizon from discussing health issues of individuals. But in court documents, the company has argued that it acted appropriately.

In suits involving legal settlements, Corizon has not acknowledged fault.

Among the cases:

Permissions to die

According to a pending class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Alabama prisoners by the Southern Poverty Law Center, five ill inmates were persuaded to sign Do Not Resuscitate forms without understanding what they were signing. One inmate was blind. In another instance, the suit alleges, life-saving care was withheld from an inmate because he had signed a DNR. He survived.

Fetus denied care

When 15-weeks-pregnant Joan Graeber entered the Collier County jail on a misdemeanor charge in 2008, she knew she needed a specific shot: Her blood type was incompatible with her baby’s. The World Health organization considers the shot one of the most important medications needed in a basic health system. Without it, a fetus can die. Graeber did not get the medicine. The baby died. Two days passed before the dead baby was delivered, and then only after an emergency court order. A suit was settled in 2011.

Ruptured aorta

According to other inmates, his mother and his girlfriend, Andy Henriquez, 19, had reported difficulty speaking, breathing and walking for several days when he was placed in solitary confinement at New York’s Rikers Island. Inmates said they refused to eat in order to get him aid. He was prescribed a muscle relaxant. Henriquez bled to death after his aorta, the largest vein in the body, slowly tore and then ruptured. Corizon said its medical staff treated Henriquez’s symptoms, such as back pain, but could not have known of Henriquez’s pending crisis based on those symptoms.

This month, the Associated Press reported a 36-year-old man died screaming for help in solitary confinement at Rikers after being denied anti-seizure medication by Corizon staff. It was one of 15 deaths in five years, including Henriquez’s, the AP said were linked to medical care.

Skin sloughs away

In Minnesota, inmate Teddy Korf was taken off his antidepressants and given a drug prescribed for bipolar disorder and nerve pain. Korf had not been diagnosed with either. He quickly developed a life-threatening side effect, including a massive rash, sloughing of skin and a temperature topping 105 degrees. Eventually sent to a hospital, Korf spent 30 days in a burn unit as the entire top layer of his skin fell away. He is now blind. A suit was settled.

Untreated paralysis

A paranoid schizophrenic, Kelly Green rushed headfirst into a cement wall while in court. According to a pending lawsuit, for the next several hours Green lay in his own feces, unable to move and having lost control of his bowels. Nurses called by guards stated that as long as he was breathing there was no emergency. Green had a fractured neck and spinal cord injury. He died from complications of the resulting paralysis. Corizon maintains it provided appropriate treatment and has denied the lawsuit’s description of key symptoms.

Heart meds delayed

Irene Bamenga, a French citizen who overstayed her tourist visa and was attempting to return to France, was arrested by immigration officials and jailed until they could send her to France. Bamenga died of heart failure in the Albany, N.Y., county jail one day before she was to board the plane. It was the second of two jails where she was detained. Corizon handled medical care there. In 2011, U.S. immigration officials commissioned a formal inquiry . The federal report found that Bamenga’s previously prescribed heart medicines were given in the wrong dosages and at the wrong time. A lawsuit is pending.

Unfilled prescription

Ashley Ellis died within 48 hours of being admitted to a Vermont prison on a misdemeanor traffic charge in 2009. The 90-pound, 23-year-old begged Corizon staffers to give her the doctor-ordered potassium needed to stabilize her heart. Although typically available at drugstores, none of the over-the-counter supplement was in stock at the prison. A settlement was reached before a suit was filed.

Hands, feet amputated

Louisville, Ky., jail inmate Melissa Quiggins saw a jail dentist who suggested she could save her severely abscessed tooth if she waited to have it treated until after she left jail. Quiggins, whose tooth was visibly draining pus, was not provided antibiotics until shortly before her release in 2009, when she was given a two-day supply. By then, the infection had spread to her lungs, triggering sepsis. Her hands and feet were amputated. A lawsuit was settled in 2013.

In a separate case, Michigan inmate Martinque Stoudemire’s lupus predisposed her to blood clots. Corizon withdrew her prescribed blood thinner, then provided it in smaller doses. Clots subsequently formed in her legs. Both were amputated. Corizon has countered that problems with Stoudemire’s veins, not clots, necessitated the amputations.

Fatal heroin withdrawal

In a Louisville, Ky,. jail, slow responses to drug crises claimed the lives of three inmates in five months. Among them was 27-year-old Savannah Sparks, who was booked into the city jail on a shoplifting charge. A heroin addict, Sparks died after four days in withdrawal, covered in her own sweat, urine, feces and vomit. “She had a bad detox,” a nurse told Kentucky TV station WDRB. “I mean we have those all the time.”

Reports of withheld food, water

In early 2012, a court-appointed monitor’s report on medical care at an Idaho prison was so scathing state lawyers argued it should not be made public. Among the findings: Ongoing complaints that a dialysis nurse failed to provide food or water during the hours-long treatments; stopped treatments before they were completed; didn’t deliver medicine; and, sometimes, denied treatment.

“It is more likely than not that authorities were aware of the potential danger to the safety of patients for several months but unduly delayed taking action to protect them,” wrote the monitor. A state investigation, he said, “strongly suggests that the delay was based on financial rather than patient safety or labor relations considerations.”

Corizon and the state vehemently disagreed with the findings. Corizon commissioned its own study, which found conditions met constitutional muster, and Corizon last year won an Idaho contract to provide inmate care.

Details of these lawsuits and others, with Corizon’s responses, can be read at mypalmbeachpost.com/dying-for-care-documents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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