An inmate’s pleas to be taken to an emergency room in the hours leading up to his death went unheeded by doctors and corrections staff at the Lino Lakes prison in 2011, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday against the company that was then providing medical care in Minnesota prisons.
Jerrell Hammond, 34, died in his cell from pulmonary blood clots. The suit, filed by Hammond’s family in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, alleges that nurses and correctional staff failed to properly respond for days as Hammond complained of severe chest pains.
Hammond’s is the second federal lawsuit in the last two months against medical and corrections staff at the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility. In January, three nurses and two prison officials were accused of negligence in the death of a 32-year-old man who died in 2010 from bilateral pneumonia and sepsis.
It is also the latest of several suits against Corizon Health Inc., which provided medical care under contract to Minnesota prison inmates until last year. Managed-care medical practices in the state’s prisons are also under review by the Minnesota Legislative Auditor, with a focus on the standard of care inmates receive and whether medical staffing levels are adequate.
Officials at the Department of Corrections declined to comment Monday, saying they had not yet been served with the suit. A spokesperson for Corizon also declined Monday, citing pending litigation.
On the day leading up to his death, Hammond collapsed in his cell from shortness of breath, according to the lawsuit. But he was not taken to a hospital for further evaluation of his ongoing symptoms, the suit says. Instead, doctors continued to give him anti-inflammatory pills and an anti-nausea medication, according to prison records.
Shortly before midnight, records show, Hammond hit the distress button in his cell, and responding officers found him on the floor and in agony.
Hammond’s pleas for medical help were captured on videotape by a corrections officer who was responsible for documenting how officers responded to the scene, according to a memo written by an investigator for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
The investigator wrote that she reviewed the video and that Hammond was heard saying, “I feel like my lung is collapsed.” Hammond is then heard asking an officer to call an ambulance, stating, “Please don’t let me die,” according to the investigator’s memo.
Hammond was left in his cell, according to the suit, and about an hour later a passing officer found him on the cell floor, not breathing and without a pulse. About 20 minutes later an ambulance crew arrived but could not resuscitate him.
Corizon, a Tennessee-based provider specializing in rationed-care programs for state prisons and county jails, is named in the suit, along with two of the company’s doctors and three state corrections nurses. Last year, Corizon lost its longtime contract with the Department of Corrections, though the company submitted the lowest bid. The department selected Centurion Managed Care under a two-year $67 million contract. Centurion is a subsidiary of a national, publicly traded health care company based in St. Louis. Centurion’s medical staffing levels are similar to what Corizon offered, according to details outlined in its contract.
The department’s PowerPoint presentation on prison health care cites utilization management as a primary way to control health care costs, which have been rising rapidly. It states, “Every time an offender is not sent to an off-site appointment, it saves money in the risk share.”