By Mark Pollio staff writer
July 31, 2002
FORT PIERCE -- A former St. Lucie County Jail nurse filed a lawsuit Tuesday under the Whistleblower Act, claiming she was fired for refusing to participate in illegal and unethical activities.
Deborah Lapham worked for Prison Health Services at the 768-bed jail from Feb. 27, 2001 to Feb. 11, 2002. Prison Health Services is a private company, contracted by St. Lucie County, providing medical care for local jail inmates.
Lapham's suit claims Prison Health Services fired her for complaining about the poor treatment. Lapham hopes to recoup lost wages and benefits and the suit requests compensatory damages for humiliation, loss of reputation and pain and suffering.
According to Isidro Garcia, Lapham's attorney, she reported the incidents to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office before being fired. The sheriff's office investigated the complaints, Garcia said. He did not know what resulted from the investigation.
"We don't know anything about it, so we have no comment," said Ken Mascara, St. Lucie County sheriff, when contacted late Tuesday.
"She made a specific complaint to her supervisor on Feb. 9, 2002," Garcia said. "Two days later, the company's response was to fire her for being insubordinate. She would complain and they slammed her."
Lapham's complaint two days before her termination was that she witnessed inmates receiving treatment that did not comply with a court order. Inmates commonly receive specific care determined by a judge.
Lapham claims Prison Health Services employees falsified medical records. The suit states jail nurses signed documents indicating inmates received medicine when they had not.
"I think there is a general belief that prisoners are treated too nicely," Garcia said. "Many recognize though that these are human beings in jail for all types of reasons and they are entitled to at least a minimal level of care."
Lapham allegedly saw a long list of unethical or illegal behavior.
She claims she saw a nurse destroy a request from an inmate for medication right in front of the inmate. That nurse allegedly said, "Let them suffer, they got themselves into this mess," according to the lawsuit.
Medical staff verbally abused inmates, the suit states.
Mentally ill inmates who are commonly held in the 14 medical unit cells were "antagonized" by medical staff in front of other inmates, the suit claims. Lapham also claims in the suit she saw an untrained nurse perform surgical procedures on an inmate.
Prison Health Services is a health-care company based in Brentwood, Tenn., which employs staff in more than 400 jails and prisons in 39 states, supervising 325,000 inmates.
A company attorney said Prison Health Services employees provide quality care.
"Oftentimes, what people allege in complaints is not exactly what occurred," said Jean Byassee, Prison Health Services chief legal officer in Brentwood. "We will see what the facts show."