February 19, 2006

County Correctional Facilities - A Death Sentence

Every once in a while a story appears in the newspaper that sends shivers up the spine and just won’t stop playing games with the brain; it just won’t go away.

Last week a headline in the Star-Ledger read, “Another Lawsuit Cites County in Inmate’s Death” it went on to say “two men with medical conditions have died in the past two years while being incarcerated."

Probably what made the story have such an effect was the manner in which the inmate died, the fact that he was only 22 years old and that this story came on the heels of another story which told of a 20-something male who also died while incarcerated at the Union County jail.

Aaron Pittman and Donald Davis had something in common: they both died horrible deaths; Pittman from Crohn’s disease and Davis from a stomach infection. According to family members, both were left untreated and their screams of pain were ignored.

What is Crohn's?
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease involving the small intestine and colon. The cause is unknown.

Crohn's disease can cause ulcers in the small intestine, colon, or both. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss are symptoms of Crohn's disease. Intestinal complications of the disease include obstruction and perforation of the small intestine, abscesses and intestinal bleeding. Massive distention or dilatation of the colon and rupture of the intestine are potentially life-threatening complications.

It has been said that Pittman’s medication for treating his Crohn’s disease was confiscated when he was arrested and detained for violating probation and that he died just a few hours after being found unconscious in his cell. One can only imagine the nightmare of pain this young man’s last few days had needlessly been.

In 1998, the Westfield Leader reported that the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded a $3.4 million contract to Correctional Health Services, Inc., of Verona, to provide health services to inmates at the County Jail and detainees at the county’s juvenile detention center. They would be helping the county switch from public to private management of the two facilities.

Citing reports of other counties utilizing CHS, then-County Manager Michael Lapolla predicted the savings would be at least $350,000 over the following two years.

Contracts vs Contributions - What a Coincidence!

Union County has awarded contracts to CHS since that time to provide medical/health care services at the jail, detention center and also the children’s shelter, the last being for the term of January 2004 through December 2006 at a cost not to exceed $3.6 million for year 1; $3.7 million for year 2; and $3,968,940 for 2006.

According to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Correctional Health Services, Inc. has awarded contributions to the Union County Democratic Committee in excess of $60,000 for the period from September ’98 through March ’04.

About two years ago, two inmates in Essex County correctional facilities died on the same day within hours of each other. Their families filed a joint wrongful death suit against Essex County and a private health care firm that provides jail medical services.

The cause of death of both of these inmates is listed as diabetic ketoacidosis, an emergency medical condition caused by a severe lack of insulin.

It is said that in both cases, the inmates, while in custody and known to be diabetics, pleaded for insulin, which was denied.

A Feb. 27, 2005 article in the New York Times calls “Private Health Care in Jails a Death Sentence” and speaks of numerous incidents around the country where inmates have died as a result of being denied necessary maintenance medication for everything from Parkinson’s disease to heart ailments to psychiatric drugs.

In New York, state investigators say they kept discovering the same failings: medical staff trimmed to the bone, doctors under-qualified or out of reach, nurses doing tasks beyond their training, prescription drugs withheld, patient records unread and employee misconduct unpunished.

It seems as though this is what is going on in Union County. It also seems as though no one is asking questions and demanding answers. It seems as though no one cares, least of all the people who have repeatedly hired CHS: the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

I wonder how can they sleep at night?