Death Toll Rises as U.S. Jails Outsource Medical Care

Death Toll Rises as U.S. Jails Outsource Medical Care

It is a plaintive, heart-wrenching plea. Matthew Loflin, 32, an inmate at the Chatham County Detention Center (“CCDC”) in Savannah, Georgia, tells his mom on a phone call that “I’m gonna die in here.” His words were prophetic. 

As of early 2014, Loflin had spent the past seven weeks in the facility desperate to obtain better medical treatment. He was throwing up blood, frequently fainting, and experiencing breathing difficulties. His feet were swollen. These are all common symptoms of congestive heart failure. 

Court records show that jail nurse Betty Riner and the jail’s doctor recommended Loflin go to the hospital. But Riner’s employer, Corizon Health, who had a contract to provide medical services to the CCDC, determined that Loflin did not need hospitalization and could receive treatment at the jail. Later, both Riner and the doctor said the decision all came down to costs. An investment firm owns Corizon. 

A lawsuit later filed by Loflin’s parents states that defendant John Wilcher, the jail administrator, discusses the results with the doctor of Loflin’s echocardiogram, indicating poor heart function. During the conversation, Wilcher focused only on the cost of care. He did make inquiries about releasing Loflin, but no such release took place. 

Loflin, held for drug possession, eventually deteriorated in the jail infirmary to the point where he was taken to the hospital. He died three weeks later of irreversible brain damage. 

Wrongful Termination 

The doctor, Riner, and another nurse later met with the sheriff over Loflin’s death and that of another inmate who committed suicide. They thought these deaths were preventable. The three alleged Corizon was more concerned with finances than with inmates’ lives. Corizon soon fired them, which launched a wrongful termination suit resulting in an undisclosed settlement. 

Riner later testified she was under pressure from Corizon to avoid sending sick inmates to the hospital. She was also told not to prescribe “unnecessary” medications. 

Corizon Health later lost its contract with the CCDC after 12 inmate deaths in 4.5 years. The CCDC has a capacity of between 1,500 and 1,800 inmates. 

Higher Death Rates in Outsourced Care 

Reuters reviewed deaths in over 500 jails from 2016 to 2018. The research showed that those jails contracting with one of the five top jail medical contractors experienced higher death rates than when government agencies provided such services. Besides Corizon, the other top jail medical contractors include Wellpath Holdings Inc., NaphCare Inc., PrimeCare Medical Inc., and Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.

These deaths were not only those arising from an illness or chronic medical conditions. The deaths also included suicides and those resulting from substance abuse. 

According to the specific private resource provider, the higher death rates ranged from 18 percent to a whopping 58 percent. When a local health department was in charge of inmate care, or the sheriff’s office ran the program, the average death rate per 10,000 inmates was 12.8. The private company death rates ranged from an additional 2.3 to 7.4 percent. 

From 2016 to 2018, jails contracting with the top companies had 691 fatalities among an average total inmate population of  138,000. Those facilities whose inmates received care from public management had 587 fatalities from a total inmate population exceeding 152,000. 

Attempting an Exorcism 

The Oklahoma County Jail contracted with Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. In the period between 2009 and 2018, 54 inmates died. In one incident, an Armor nurse allegedly attempted an exorcism on an inmate who later succumbed to an overdose of methamphetamine. It is a sad commentary on the state of contracted inmate medical care. 

The list of preventable inmate deaths and outsourced medical care is extensive and tragic. These issues are ongoing. Without serious reform of the system, the numbers will only continue to rise. 

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Related topics: inmate death (29) | jail medical neglect (15) | substandard care (23)


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