Friday, February 15, 2008

Inmate's widow sues jail's former medical provider

Palm Beach County Jail


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nervous about his looming seven-day jail sentence for driving with an expired license, Mark Dickson did what he always did to relieve stress: He drank. And drank. And drank some more.

Arriving at the Palm Beach County Jail drunk, he was run through the jail's health clinic where he told a nurse the obvious: He was a heavy drinker.

Assigned a bunk in the general jail population, he called his wife regularly, saying he was shaking, sick and couldn't get any medical help.

Four days later, he had a seizure. A week later, the 43-year-old West Palm Beach man was dead.

The cause of the seizure, which ultimately caused his death: acute alcohol withdrawal, according to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office.

"There's no doubt in my mind Mark would be alive today if someone had given him the help he needed," said his widow, Natalie Primeau, who now lives in Port St. Lucie.

This month, she filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis-based company that lost its roughly $13-million-a-year contract to provide medical services to jail inmates in January 2006, some three months after Dickson died. However, while Correctional Medical Services is gone, many of those who worked for the company were hired by the firm that now provides health services at the jail.

Pointing to one of his other clients, Primeau's attorney, Gary Susser, said that what happened to Dickson is not an isolated case.

Less than two weeks after Dickson died, Jack Masacz said he learned firsthand what it's like to be in jail, need medical care and not get it.

A lifelong epileptic, he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct when he had a particularly violent seizure and his elderly parents called police for help. He said he told jail medical officials he needed at least twice-daily doses of the anti-seizure medication that police dropped off at the jail with him. He never got it.

Three days later, he had a seizure. He fell from a top bunk, opening a 4-inch gash on his head, knocking out a front tooth, blackening both eyes and leaving him with debilitating migraines that haunted him for two years.

The seizure was totally predictable, he said.

"I told her I needed my medicine daily, and if not, there was a good chance I would have a seizure," the 49-year-old Lake Worth man said.

Chaotic response to seizure

Susser said Dickson's death and Masacz's seizure and subsequent health problems could have been avoided if Correctional Medical Services workers had simply done their jobs and provided help to people who needed it.

"What we've seen here is reckless disregard for people who needed medical attention," said Susser, who successfully sued a former jail health provider after an inmate died in 2003.

Correctional Medical Services declined comment on the allegations, citing privacy laws that prohibit them from talking about specific cases. Dr. Pierre Dorsainvil, who was the medical director of the jail under Correctional Medical Services and remains in that position with the company that replaced it, referred a phone call to his new employer, Armor Correctional Health Services.

In a statement, the Coconut Creek-based company pointed out that Dickson's death and Masacz's seizure occurred before it was hired .

"The professionals at Armor are trained to provide the highest standard of patient care to the inmates of Palm Beach County," it wrote. It declined further comment.

In keeping with policies to investigate all inmate deaths, Palm Beach County sheriff's officials conducted an extensive probe into the chaos that erupted when Dickson had his seizure.

Then, when a top-ranking corrections official sharply criticized the medical team's response, another investigation ensued.

After interviewing all the inmates, deputies and medical personnel involved, sheriff's detectives closed their investigation, ruling Dickson had died from natural causes.

But Lt. Sandra Nealy, who works in corrections and was on duty the night of Dickson's death, said she wasn't convinced the medical emergency was handled properly.

In a memo to her supervisor, she noted that, when an unresponsive Dickson was taken into the medical clinic, one nurse stood in a doorway and did nothing while another nurse struggled to perform CPR by herself and another nurse "paced back and forth in what appeared to be a state of confusion."

Eventually, deputies were called to help perform CPR after the upset nurse said she couldn't help because a knee injury prevented her from kneeling on the floor. Ultimately, the nurse tried to help but didn't seem to know how to use the defibrillator or the oxygen tank

All four nurses were suspended during the investigation by a registered nurse who oversees the jail's health service contract, said Major Tammy Waldrop. The investigation concluded that none did anything wrong and all were allowed to return to work.

Three still work at the jail, Susser said. A fourth has left the area.

While crediting sheriff's deputies who stepped in and tried to save Dickson, he said the documents he has reviewed raise as many questions as they answer.

He said he doesn't understand why a man who showed up at the jail in the middle of the morning drunk and told a nurse he consumed at least six beers a day wasn't monitored to determine whether he would experience dangerous symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal.

He said he doesn't understand why a man who was having a seizure initially was placed facedown on the floor. He doesn't understand why deputies, instead of trained medical personnel, were forced to perform life-saving measures. He said he doesn't understand why emergency medical crews weren't called sooner to take Dickson to the hospital.

Jailed after a fender-bender

By the time Dickson got to the hospital, he was essentially brain dead, doctors at JFK Medical Center told deputies. After languishing for 12 days handcuffed to a hospital bed while a deputy stood watch, his life support was removed on Oct. 19. He died 25 minutes later.

Primeau said she has spent the past two years trying to recover, emotionally and financially. She and her husband worked together in a tile business: She would do the estimates and he would lay the tile.

"He was a hard worker. He was a functional alcoholic," she said. "He just loved his beer."

His death came after a series of misadventures. She said he hated driving and rarely did.

But she was sick one day, so he drove to the store to pick up her medicine. On the way, he got into a fender bender and police discovered his license had expired. They gave him a citation.

Although he renewed the license the next day, county Judge Peter Evans sent him to jail for seven days.

"I don't know why for something so minor," she said.

Although he was scared at the prospect of being incarcerated, she said she never imagined it would cost him his life.

Likewise, Masacz said he never imagined that anyone, much less a health-care worker, would deny him his epilepsy medicine. At least, he said, he would have expected them to put him in a safe place so he couldn't harm himself if a seizure occurred.

But, he said, he discovered that talking to jail medical personnel was useless: "It was like talking to a wall."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

while on vacation I was arrested for a warrent for something I know nothing about! I was taken to jail where I waited to be expedited. On the 4th day after dinner I was severly beaten mostly to the right side of my head. I do not have a history of seizers and other then being beaten to a point of one that night, I'm in good health. This is not the end,my lawsuit has yet to be filed, but when it is,I can only pray what happened to me never happens to another innocent inmate (victim) in our jails.