POLK COUNTY, Fla. - A death inside Polk Correctional Institution is raising concerns about a lucrative private medical contract.
Gamaliel Cineus was serving a nine-year sentence for aggravated battery and robbery.
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“He would say, ‘Oh Mom, when I get out I’m going to open a camp for little boys so they won’t end up where I’m at now,’” his mother, Theresa Cineus, said.
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For weeks, his family said he complained he was struggling to breath, even sending email describing his suffering: “Esophagus is swollen. Coughing so hard to the point of passing out. Shortness of breath until it's unbearable.” His last email and phone call were the day before Christmas.
“I said, ‘You need to have them go check you because you might have blood clots,’” said his mother, who also suffers from blood clots.
Two days later, Cineus was dead.
An attorney for the Cineus family sent a notice to the Department of Corrections saying they plan to file a lawsuit. Cineus’s death certificate, which his family provided from the hospital, shows the cause of death as pulmonary embolism, which is caused by blood clots.
Cineus’ mother said she and her son weren’t taken seriously when they tried to warn the prison. She said the medical staff allegedly used over-the-counter medicine to treat what they thought was acid reflux.
Last year, there were more than more than 300 Florida inmates died of “natural causes” such as disease or infection. 1,887 have died since 2013, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Florida privatized health care under former Gov. Rick Scott in 2012. Since then, more than 2,000 inmates have died. Most of them died of natural causes.
A local man died behind bars. His family says it could have been prevented. #9Investigates digs deeper into the lucrative contract and political contributions surrounding privatized healthcare in Florida prisons, Today at 5:45 on #wftv. @DJonesWFTV @GWarmothWFTV @MarthaSugalski pic.twitter.com/nbr9eWS2VD— WFTV Channel 9 (@WFTV) January 17, 2019
“There is a mechanism in place to refer out to private hospitals and to give further treatment as necessary. But there's a cost associated with that,” said Jerry Girley, the Cineus family’s attorney. “The concern I have is whether there was some overall mandate to keep the costs down.”
Last year, Centurion of Florida was the only company to bid on a $300 million contract to provide health care to inmates statewide. That contract also allows it to collect an 11.5% administrative fee.
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Its parent company, Centene, reportedly donated nearly $1 million into the Republican Party and more to a political action committee supporting then Governor Scott before the contract was awarded.
At least one state senator, Jeff Brandes of Pinellas County, criticized the state for awarding the contract to a single bidder.
The only number Cineus' mother is interested in right now is the one she can call to get real answers about how her son ended up dead.
“He said he had to huff and puff to get where he was going in order to move. He said he kept going up there and even the doctor said he was playing,” Theresa Cineus said.
The investigation into Cineus’ death is still open.
Channel 9 requested a statement from Centene, the parent company for Centurion. The company did not respond by the time this story was published.
The DOC sent 9 Investigates a statement yesterday which reads in part:
"FDC has a track record of ensuring medical providers are held accountable for providing an adequate and appropriate level of care that is in line with national health standards."
Some lawmakers told Channel 9 the healthcare contract could be discussed again when the legislative session starts in March.
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