Sunday, September 7, 2008

Volusia poised to swap care for jail's mentally ill

Rachael Jackson

Sentinel Staff Writer

September 5, 2008

After pressure from mental-health activists alleging inhumane care at the county jail, the Volusia County Council is considering hiring a local medical provider.

Prison Health Services has been criticized, particularly for denying medications to mental-health patients, since it was hired in 2005. On Thursday, council members said they want to partner with ACT Corp., a Volusia County group, for mental-health care and continue to use Prison Health Services for other medical needs.

The council will make a final decision at its Sept. 18 meeting. A yearlong contract for all services with PHS would have been about $7.5 million, but officials could not say what the price difference would be with the change.

The decision was met with relief from about 30 members of Fighting Against Injustice and Toward Harmony, a Volusia County group.

"As members of FAITH, we are here as a voice for those who do not have a voice," group co-chairman Jimmie Moore told the council. "We want to thank you many times over for addressing this issue and addressing it most appropriately."

Janet Miller, president of ACT, said many inmates were already under ACT's care. By providing on-site services, she said, her group could give more continuity. "We know our clients," she said.

Carla P. Cesario, a PHS division vice president, said the company would be happy to partner with ACT.

The Tennessee company treats a daily population of 1,500 at the Volusia County Branch Jail. It has faced several lawsuits in the county and throughout the country.

A local suit pending in federal court alleges that a Parkinson's patient died from ulcers and a staph infection because he was so poorly cared for.

The most recent Volusia suit, filed this summer, claims an inmate with brain damage and other disorders got much worse when she was denied medications.

David Hager, the former psychiatrist at the jail, left about three months ago.

Hager had a policy of taking mental-health patients off their medication to help him diagnose them, a spokeswoman said.

A new jail psychiatrist keeps them on their medication.

Since the change, Public Defender James S. Purdy said, he hasn't heard any complaints from inmates.

Miller said ACT will keep patients on their medication if it starts working in the jail.

"It's like a diabetic without insulin," she said.

Rachael Jackson can be reached at or 386-851-7923.

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