Ex-jail nurse sues healthcare company

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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."


346 Posts

Interesting - I worked for Prison Health Services myself when they won a contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections. They seemed utterly clueless about what they were taking on. I remember their motto: "Client first, always" - though the "client" was an "inmate" and DID have to be treated as such in order to maintain the level of security that has to be maintained in that atmosphere.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out.



921 Posts

"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. "

Court ordered care is often challenged because the judge, frankly, does not have a medical degree. Prison Health services is legally liable for the care of the inmate. A judge cannot order medication for an inmate. Only a licensed physician can do that!!

This issue has come up in many cases and the courts will absolutely side with the M.D.

Also, "client first" means the correctional facility for which they are contracted with. The real client is the jail or prison!

Prison Health Services, Inc. was started by 2 ER nurses in the 70s. They certainly are not "clueless" Prisons and jails have been struggling to provide even the most basic health care to inmates ever since the landmark Supreme court case recognizing that detainees in correctional facilities are totally dependent on the institution for their health care. The incarcerated are the only U.S. citizens with a constitutional right to health care.

Believe me, every inmate knows his civil rights and is quick to contact his/her lawyer if he feels he is not getting the proper medical treatment.

Of course I want to side with the nurse, however, I would like to know all the facts first.

This is sad. Is PHS union?

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