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Health care at jails coming under fire
Lawsuits filed in two area counties

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

One person died and another allegedly suffered a skull fracture and partial paralysis while in custody inside two area county jails, according to two separate lawsuits filed in the past couple months.

The lawsuits allege the victims suffered severe bodily harm in part when agents of Advanced Correctional Healthcare failed to provide basic medical treatment.

Advanced Correctional Healthcare
(ACH) is a health care provider that operates health care teams for more than 245 correctional facilities, including Platte, Clay, Buchanan and Cass Counties in this region.

Tyler Fee, 25, of St. Joseph, was taken into custody on a third degree assault charge and booked inside the Buchanan County Jail on July 5. The lawsuit alleges that jail employees were immediately made aware that Fee had previously suffered a traumatic brain injury and required a number of medications. A family member delivered Fee’s medication to the jail thinking Fee would immediately be provided his medication.

Despite this awareness, the suit alleges that jail employees and ACH employees withheld the necessary prescription medication from Fee, causing him to suffer a seizure and fall to the ground. The lawsuit alleges that Fee suffered a fracture of his skull, which was not treated for a period of six days.

Court papers also allege the family member had told jail employees that because of Tyler's condition, should he suffer a blow to the head he would immediately require medical attention.

The suit alleges the warning was disregarded even though ACH employees were well aware the inmate had struck his head. An employee allegedly commented on Fee’s head injury, referring to the injury as a “goose egg.”

The court action alleges employees also failed to provide him medical care when he began to bleed from his nose, slept nearly 24-hours a day, slurred his speech, dragged his right leg, and loss use of his right arm and hand, states court documents.

Attorney Russ Purvis of the Montee Law Firm, who filed the lawsuit, said: “The failure of ACH and Buchanan County to provide even the most basic medical care to inmates held in the Buchanan County Jail is not only unconstitutional, but unnecessarily caused serious injuries to Mr. Fee, and continues to pose a serious risk to the life of every inmate held in the Buchanan County Jail.”

Wrongful death alleged
A separate lawsuit was filed against Advanced Correctional Healthcare in Clay County on May 28. That lawsuit asserts that “as a direct and proximate result of the carelessness and negligence of ACH, Brian M. Sorensen died.”

Tanya Hansen LPN, Dr. Catherine Van Voorn, and Marissa Chrisco LPN, employees of ACH are among the defendants listed in the lawsuit.

Brian Sorensen, 61-years-old, was taken into custody for failing to display a valid license plate, possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, and possession of paraphernalia on May 24, 2013. Upon his booking at the Clay County Detention Center, Sorensen allegedly informed the nursing staff of his medical needs and health concerns.

Several days later, the suit alleges Sorensen made “multiple” complaints to the medical staff regarding stomach pain. The following day, his condition worsened and he advised an LPN that he was experiencing severe stomach pain, according to court documents.

When he saw the doctor that afternoon, he again reported severe stomach and abdominal pain. The suit alleges he shared his prior history of severe gastrointestinal issues and was prescribed Prilosec.

According to the lawsuit, within hours of seeing the doctor, a guard recovered Sorensen from the floor of cell and took him to the medical unit, where he was evaluated and treated.

The suit alleges 30 minutes passed before an EMS was called. By the time emergency responders arrived, Sorensen was bleeding from the mouth and had no pulse, according to the suit.

The suit alleges ACH was careless and negligent in failing to administer Sorensen's medication, not detecting his duodenal ulcer, and failing to recognize the life-threatening nature of his symptoms.

The suit also asserts ACH failed to notify emergency services in a timely manner and failed to administer CPR.

ACH, based out of Illinois, provides contracted health care teams to 245 short-term correctional facilities across the country, including 40 facilities in Missouri. Lawsuits claiming an ACH employee failed to provide proper medical treatment resulting in a serious risk to the life of a person in-custody have been filed in Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia, according to a press release from attorney Russ Purvis.

The claims against ACH came as a surprise to Platte County officials, sheriff’s department representatives indicated to The Landmark.

In Platte County, ACH has provided health care related services to inmates detained at the Platte County Detention Center for the past four years. During that period, no local lawsuits have been filed against ACH.

Cpt. Erik Holland, administrative division of the Platte County Sheriff's Office, said: “Inmates from time to time won't agree with some things, but we haven't had any problems to speak of. We have a good working relationship with ACH.”

Platte County officials say their contract with ACH is a four-year contract with a renewal option. ACH collects a fee based on the population of the jail and the number of hours a day their team is providing medical services to inmates. The fee varies depending on whether the person is a county inmate or municipal inmate.

Inmate medical services make up the largest portion of the division's budget. To save an estimated $86,000, county officials in 2011 declined to renew a contract with Correctional Healthcare Company and entered into a contract with ACH.

The proposals the county received offered identical services, but ACH offered the proposed savings by combining inmate medical services and inmate medication.