Once Again, an Inmate Has Died at a Jail Where Wellpath, the Private Medical Care Provider, Was Responsible for Treatment

No one deserves to die a slow, painful death because their numerous pleas for medical treatment fell on deaf ears among those responsible for providing that care. Unfortunately, that exact outcome happens too often in jails and prisons in Oregon and around the country. In many of these cases, the entity responsible for providing medical care to those inmates is a private, for-profit company to which the state or county has outsourced medical care responsibilities. Whether or not the wrongdoer was a state/county agency or a private contractor, when an inmate dies from inadequate medical care, that inmate’s family (estate) very likely has a negligence claim and possibly a civil rights action. That family should contact an Oregon jail death lawyer about the proper legal steps to take. Timing is critical in these cases in order to preserve evidence and investigative materials as well as to send the proper tort claim notices to preserve claims against public entities.

Another month has delivered yet another report of an inmate’s death inside a jail. Voices of Monterey Bay‘s recent report focuses on one of the bigger (and more notorious) private contractors providing prison medical care, Wellpath.

The California inmate who died, according to one source, had been moved from the Monterey County Jail’s general population after expressing “suicidal thoughts.” However, on the night of April 19, he was removed from suicide watch, according to a nurse. The next morning, a deputy found him unresponsive. The inmate died from asphyxia, the result of the massive amount of toilet paper he stuffed up his nose and down his throat, according to the coroner.

Monterey County, Calif. is far from the only place where Wellpath has come under scrutiny. Last September, a man died in the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs while serving a short stint for a probation violation. The man required multiple prescription medications for his seizure disorder and other conditions. He also required methadone. According to the family’s lawsuit, during September, Wellpath workers gave him too much, too little, or no meds at all on half the days. By Sept. 27, the man was found dead in his cell.

Also last year, a judge found that Wellpath had destroyed evidence in a prison death in southern Washington. In that case, an 18-year-old with a mental health disorder went for several days without food or water. The teen spent eight days in lockup before workers found him dead in his cell. During those eight days, he lost 38 pounds. The teen “literally died of thirst in the jail’s infirmary,” according to the family’s lawyer.

Earlier this year, the family of a northern California man sued Wellpath in federal court. The man suffered from mental health problems and drug withdrawal when he was booked into the Santa Rita Jail east of Oakland. Allegedly, workers placed him alone in a cell where he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself. Still without care days later, the man hanged himself with the bedsheet he requested from a deputy. The man’s passing was one of 58 deaths at the jail since 2014, according to KTVU.

All of these took place after CNN published an exposé in the summer of 2019 detailing examples from the hundreds of instances across 32 states where Wellpath stood accused of providing substandard care.

Tragic Instances from Close to Home

Currently, Kaplan Law is investigating and/or prosecuting at least four different death cases that involve medical neglect against county jails that have contracts with Wellpath to provide healthcare at their facilities. Three of those cases have occurred in Yamhill County and one in Columbia County.

In January 2018, Kathy Norman was not medically evaluated or treated despite the deputies and Wellpath providers having knowledge of her beginning alcohol detoxication. They essentially did not even bother to take her vital signs, do any sort of detox evaluation, or provide her the medication needed to prevent detoxing. They just locked her into a “medical cell” and never followed up on her care until she was dead on the floor. In 2021, there were two suicides in this facility despite the clear need for mental health treatment. There have been at least 5 deaths at the Yamhill County Jail since 2015.

Our Columbia County case is early in its investigation, but it appears that the deputies and Wellpath providers had someone in their custody for months and ignored his horrific symptoms until he deteriorated so significantly that they finally discharged him to an emergency room. By then, his body was so riddled with infection that the doctors and nurses could not save him. We will be investigating the lack of care at the Columbia County Jail. We also, though, will be investigating whether these facilities and Wellpath are actively dumping dying inmates by discharging them to emergency rooms, thereby avoiding the mandatory investigations that must occur when an adult in custody dies in their facility.

I will write more about these jail medical neglect cases and others that Kaplan Law is working on as the investigations progress and I get more information.

Other Contract Medical Care Providers Have Similar (Spotty) Track Records

The problem extends beyond just Wellpath. In 2014, a 26-year-old Portland-area woman was behind bars in Washington County on a heroin possession charge. The woman told medical staff at the county jail that she was in withdrawal, but workers took no action. She would submit multiple additional written pleas for help, but workers took no action other than to provide an anti-diarrheal and, later on, Gatorade.

Eventually, she was found unresponsive in her cell. She died shortly thereafter. In late 2018, the woman’s parents recovered $10 million from the contractor responsible for medical care at the Washington County Jail, Corizon Health. Corizon, like Wellpath, is one of the largest providers of contract medical services in correctional facilities.

All Americans, including those behind bars, are entitled to certain rights under the constitution. When an inmate dies because they didn’t get reasonable medical care, that represents at least a negligence case and possibly a violation of that person’s Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Cases like these are unique and require the right set of legal knowledge and skills. The experienced Oregon jail medical neglect attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC stand ready to help those who have suffered (or the family of someone who has suffered) because they didn’t get appropriate medical treatment while incarcerated. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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