Having a baby is supposed to be a blessed event. It can quickly become a nightmare for mothers who are forced to deliver in a tiny jail cell without any medical assistance. Sometimes, babies can come very quickly and with little warning. In most cases, however, there is plenty of time to get the expectant mom to the hospital to ensure a safe birth. When guards and jail nurse ignored a Denver woman’s pleas to be taken to a hospital, she sued.
Diana Sanchez lives in Colorado. When she was booked into the Denver County Jail on July 14, 2018, she was visibly pregnant. Her due date was in early August. Sanchez told the intake staff that she was pregnant and suffering from some complications that increased her risk of a premature birth. Even without complications, the stress of going to jail alone can be enough to trigger a premature birth.
Sanchez was given a cell in the jail’s medical unit and was examined by a nurse 2 weeks later on July 30th. The nurse that performed the examination told Ms. Sanchez to report any contractions or leaking fluids immediately. Hours later in the middle of the night she began having contractions and immediately notified a deputy. The deputy in turn contacted the jail’s nursing staff.
For the next four or five hours Diana Sanchez spoke to deputies and nurses at least 8 times. During that time her water broke. Although everyone appeared willing to listen, no one took action.
An exam by jail nurses confirmed that delivery was imminent yet no one took Ms. Sanchez to a hospital. Alone, in pain and in a filthy cell, Diana Sanchez gave birth to a baby boy. One of the nurses told a deputy that Sanchez needed a “non-emergent” transport to the hospital. Jail procedures require an inmate in labor be transported by emergency ambulance.
A deputy returning from a meal break noticed that Sanchez was screaming in agony and needed to go to the hospital. It seemed like everyone knew of the dire nature of Sanchez’ situation yet no one took action.
The deputy began to panic and donned gloves thinking she may have to deliver the baby since none of the jail nurses were doing anything. That deputy demanded a nurse respond. The nurse allegedly told another deputy not to bother him while he was on the phone.
The helpless deputy yelled for help yet none of the nurses responded. Diana Sanchez delivered the baby on a filthy jail cot by herself.After the baby was born the nursing staff belatedly responded. No one had a birthing kit. Someone finally found one in a locked office. The kit didn’t have clamps for the umbilical cord or the device to sever the cord.
Only then were paramedics called in. Diana was finally transported to the hospital 6 hours after she began asking for help. It took the paramedics over 15 minutes to arrive. Plenty of time for the jail nurses to administer basic care.
Notes from the paramedics indicated that the baby was suffering from Acute Respiratory Distress and had acrocyanosis, a discoloration of the extremities resulting from insufficient oxygen reaching the extremities due to weak circulation.
Diana Sanchez says none of the nurses gave her baby oxygen and delayed in wiping mucus from the baby’s mouth.
Thankfully, the baby appears okay. That didn’t stop Ms. Sanchez from filing a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver (operators of the jail) and Denver Health and Hospital Authority, the publicly owned healthcare service that provided medical care to inmates on the jail.
We hope the lawsuit prevents another inmate from having to delivery her own baby in unsanitary conditions and without adequate medical care.
According to her lawsuit, Sanchez claims that jail and Denver Health’s failure to provide the
“with even the most basic post-delivery care was not just negligent, it was deliberately indifferent to his obvious, serious medical needs. Had the nursing staff simply taken Ms. Sanchez seriously when she initially told Nurse Chacon, Nurse Gilkey, and (upon information and belief) Technician Warmus that her water had broken and that she had been experiencing contractions, Denver Sheriffs and Denver Health could easily have transported her to DHMC before giving birth. Denver and Denver Health knew that Ms. Sanchez was only nine days short of her due date, with multiple risk factors for premature delivery. Both Denver Sheriffs and the Denver Health nursing staff certainly were aware that she could go into labor at any time. Surveillance video confirms that Ms. Sanchez spoke with Denver Sheriff deputies and Denver Health medical staff… at least eight times between her first contraction at approximately 5:00 a.m. and the birth…”
She also says,
“The cell was plainly not sanitary, and Denver and Denver Health staff did not take appropriate steps to protect Ms. Sanchez or Baby J.S.M. When Denver Health nurses finally arrived, at least one nurse can be seen brushing her hair with the same gloved hand she uses to hold Baby J.S.M., as well as wiping her mouth and nose with her wrist and then continuing to handle Baby J.S.M.”
This case is interesting because the Denver jail did a physician assistant that acted as the OBGYN for the facility. He was on vacation the week Diana gave birth and apparently no one arranged for substitute coverage.
Jail Covers Up Its Own Negligence
What happened to Diana Sanchez was horrific. Thankfully the baby pulled through just fine. We will never know what would have happened if the paramedics didn’t arrive when they did.
If there is any silver lining in this story, we were hoping that it would have been a learning event. It was but not in a positive way.
The jail’s internal affairs unit investigated the response by deputies. Remember, there was a policy in place that said female inmates in labor should be transported by emergency ambulance to a hospital. The jail’s own investigation, however, found no violation of any policy or misconduct.
An open records request suggests that there was no remedial training either. What will happen to the next baby born in Denver’s jail?
It is not just the jail that thinks it did anything wrong. Denver Health released a statement to a media outlet saying, "Denver Health provides high quality medical care to thousands of inmates every year. Our patients are our number one priority and we make every effort to ensure they receive the proper care. As this is a pending legal matter, we are not able to comment at this time."
Diana Sanchez’s ordeal isn’t the only one on Colorado. In 2017, a woman claimed she gave birth in a toilet in the El Paso County Jail (Colorado Springs) after her cries for help went unanswered. In 2009, a woman in Pueblo County gave birth alone in a cell. She was in jail because she had no money to pay a after she was unable to pay a municipal ticket.
These cases have spurred the ACLU to examine how women’s medical needs are met in Colorado’s jails.
County and Denver Health Settle
In mid-August, the County and Denver Health agreed to a settlement of $480,000. The deal must still be approved by the Denver city council. Ms. Sanchez received some well deserved justice but did the county learn anything?
We hope that the threat of additional lawsuits will force the county to take jail pregnancies seriously. Too many lawsuits may cause the county’s insurance carriers to simply walk away. Then the County would have to take things seriously less the taxpayer’s revolt.
Denied Prenatal Care in Jail?
Forced to Have a Baby in a Jail Cell?
Giving birth in jails doesn’t happen often. As we began this post, sometimes a birth can be both sudden and premature. But even in those instances, jail and medical staff need to have the right protocols, training and equipment at the ready.
There was simply no excuse for what happened to Diana Sanchez. We are working on a tragic case where it appears that a woman gave birth and the baby subsequently died in a jail cell. Once again, the woman’s medical needs were ignored.
If you didn’t receive adequate prenatal care or were forced to deliver a baby while in jail, you may be entitled to compensation. You may not get the doctor of your choice while in jail but you are entitled to adequate care. When it comes to jail pregnancies, we believe many jails are not properly prepared while others take a “wait and see” attitude that wastes precious time and often results in tragedy.
Simply because you are in jail doesn’t mean you lose all your rights. Our Constitution protects everyone in America from cruel and unusual punishment. Our Supreme Court says that our rights include adequate medical care while in prison. If you or a loved one miscarried or delivered a bay in jail without proper care, call us.
We will defend your rights anywhere in the nation. Our team of medical neglect and nationwide network of experienced jail death and prison injury lawyers is standing by To learn more, visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Call US 866.836.4684 or Connect Online.