9 Investigates

9 Investigates the cost of inmate healthcare

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A South Florida company that provides medical services for the Brevard County Jail is coming under fire in several lawsuits after a series of inmate deaths in jails where Armor Correctional is contracted.

Investigative reporter Karla Ray first exposed the death of inmate Charles Jones back in October 2016. The jail's internal investigation said his death was not related to medical care he received inside the Brevard County Jail, but his family still has questions.

An autopsy showed an infection related to a stomach ulcer killed Jones. 9 Investigates found Jones requested medical attention four times in as many weeks leading up to his death. Even though records showed he was scheduled for an outside doctor’s appointment one day after his death, the jail’s death investigation found he “was not delayed in receiving medical treatment he requested.”

“He did make a complaint, more than once,” Jones’ relative, Edna Watkins said.

Watkins also worked inside the jail as a nurse. She and other employees reached out to Eyewitness News with concerns about Armor Correctional’s care of the inmates.

Jones’ family has not filed a lawsuit or indicated they plan to do so, but Armor Correctional is named in several other suits across the country. A spokesperson told 9 Investigates that they’ve averaged less than four malpractice settlements annually in the last 12 years, which equates to one settlement per 340,000 patient interactions.

“It's very upsetting. The nurses that I know and work with, they are just appalled by what's going on,” dentist David Che said. Che said he also used to work for Armor Correctional.

9 Investigates found incidents of inmate deaths blamed on alleged poor healthcare by Armor Correctional in lawsuits across the country.

New York’s Attorney General exposed five recent inmate deaths due to lack of care in a lawsuit that resulted in a settlement and Armor Correctional leaving the Nassau Correctional System.

Armor Correctional is also accused of four deaths in Wisconsin, including an infant who was born to a mother in an isolation cell.

Another lawsuit blames the starvation death of a mentally ill Broward County inmate on Armor, citing several other deaths there due to alleged neglect. Court documents show Armor Correctional has denied wrongdoing in that lawsuit.

“Huge red flag. Huge red flag,” David Che said.

9 Investigates went through dozens of records and found complaints from inmates inside the Brevard County Jail about a lack of care or ignored health issues. One complaint detailed the process requiring inmates to wait a week between “three sick call” requests to see a doctor.

In response to those grievances, Armor told 9 Investigates in a statement the company embraces the medical grievance process as it affords its patients another avenue to communicate potential health concerns. The grievance tracking system clearly demonstrates that Armor responded timely to all grievances 100 percent of the time and only 3 percent of the grievances were founded and required a remedy.

Jones’ family wonders if more could have been done to help him.

“It hurts, because I think about him suffering, and I picture him trying to hold himself up when he was really hurting,” Watkins said.

A spokesperson for Armor said its “medical staff performed in excess of 270,000 health screenings, responded to an approximate 250,000 sick calls, incurred an additional 675,000 patient encounters through chronic care visits, history and physicals, mental health and dental visits; and provided 170,000 prescriptions in the jails they served in 2016. Our dedicated and skilled medical staff successfully care for an incarcerated population that often times have severe medical and mental health needs. However, there is an alarming national trend of unsubstantiated litigation from inmates, their families and plaintiffs’ attorneys who utilize the media for financial gain. In spite of these obstacles, Armor has averaged less than four malpractice settlements annually in the last 12 years which equates to one settlement per 340,000 patient interactions. Further, the company has never had a medical malpractice judgment entered against it.  Just as the most prestigious hospitals have preventable negative outcomes, Armor as well, has such events and accepts responsibility for those rare occurrences. The company is respectful of the families impacted. However, when facts are misrepresented or incorrect, Armor will vigorously defend its employees and the services provided."

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told 9 Investigates in a statement he has absolute confidence in the company, calling them “diligent in attending to the medical needs of the inmates.”

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.