Family sues pri­vate health care con­trac­tor for death of man, 37, who pleaded for help

The fed­eral law­suit claims the in­mate had “an en­tirely treat­able infection.”

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Noelle Phillips

The pri­vate med­i­cal staff that cares for in­mates inside the Arapahoe County De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity al­lowed a 37-year-old man to die on the floor of his cell in a pool of blood and vomit af­ter ig­nor­ing his rapidly de­clin­ing health, ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral law­suit filed this week.

Jef­frey Lil­lis died Dec. 14, 2014, from sep­sis caused by bac­te­rial pneu­mo­nia af­ter com­plain­ing for days that he didn’t feel well, record­ing an es­ca­lat­ing fever and cough­ing up blood. His death in­volved a rare “ca­dav­eric spasm,” in which the en­tire mus­cu­lar sys­tem stiff­ens at death and is “usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with vi­o­lent deaths hap­pen­ing un­der ex­tremely phys­i­cal cir­cum­stances with intense emo­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Den­ver.

“It is aw­ful,” said Erica Gross­man, one of the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Lil­lis’ chil­dren. “Jef­frey Lil­lis was only 37 and died of an en­tirely treat­able infection be­cause no one would get him med­i­cal care.”

The law­suit names Arapahoe County, Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions LLC, Cor­rec­tional Health­care Com­pa­nies, Great Peak Health­care Ser­vices, Cor­rec­tional Health­care Ser­vices, Maxim Health­care Ser­vices, a doc­tor and six nurses as de­fen­dant.

Arapahoe County Sher­iff David Walcher de­clined to comment on the law­suit. So did a spokesman for Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions and its em­ploy­ees.

Lil­lis had been feel­ing sick since the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber 2014, and on Dec. 11 he sent a med­i­cal re­quest to the jail staff say­ing, “Help, I am very sick, with a fever, headaches, cough, over­all not feel­ing so good also my skin is so dry it’s driv­ing me crazy,” the law­suit said.

Lil­lis’ pleas for help went on for days as his tem­per­a­ture con­tin­ued to rise, and he be­gan cough­ing blood and ex­pe­ri­enced nau­sea and di­ar­rhea. At one point, a nurse made him spit blood into a basin to prove he was pro­duc­ing it in a cough, the law­suit said.

When Lil­lis fi­nally saw a doc­tor, he was pre­scribed cough medicine not avail­able in the de­ten­tion cen­ter. X-rays were not or­dered.

On the evening he died, Lil­lis re­peat­edly asked for med­i­cal help, coughed blood, was rest­less and was hold­ing his head in his hands be­fore he even­tu­ally col­lapsed while us­ing the toi­let in his cell, the law­suit said.

In­stead of rush­ing to his aid, a nurse asked to watch a video of the col­lapse be­fore she re­sponded. Ten min­utes later, the nurse found Lil­lis ly­ing on the floor with a faint pulse, blood com­ing out of his mouth and sur­rounded by vomit, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Even then, the jail staff was not ready to re­spond to a med­i­cal cri­sis. A de­fib­ril­la­tor was not read­ily avail­able on the floor where Lil­lis was housed, and a suc­tion ma­chine had not been stored with the tub­ing, leav­ing nurses to scram­ble to find the parts needed to use it, the law­suit said.

“The only way Mr. Lil­lis could get his emer­gent con­di­tion treated as an emer­gency was to die on the floor in his own blood and vomit,” the law­suit says.

The au­topsy found that Lil­lis’ left lung was filled with so much fluid it weighed two times more than his right lung.

Af­ter Lil­lis’ death, Arapahoe County changed its pol­icy to re­quire doc­tors to rou­tinely see in­mates who are too sick to stay in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion units.

But the pol­icy change was too lit­tle, too late, the law­suit said.

The law­suit blames Lil­lis’ death not only on the care­less at­ti­tude of the nurses and doc­tor who saw him but also on the pri­va­ti­za­tion of health care in county jails around the coun­try.

Health care com­pa­nies and county jails are mo­ti­vated to keep costs low by adopt­ing “wait and see” ap­proaches to in­mates’ med­i­cal con­di­tions rather than pro­vide the im­me­di­ate treat­ment needed, the law­suit claims.

“Med­i­cal care in jails has be­come scan­dalously de­lib­er­ately in­dif­fer­ent, caus­ing se­ri­ous in­juries and death to count­less in­mates around the coun­try,” the law­suit said. “Many of these deaths are from en­tirely pre­ventable or treat­able dis­eases that rarely kill peo­ple out­side of jail, such as bac­te­rial pneu­mo­nia. These con­di­tions or dis­eases are sim­ply ig­nored and these in­mates are left to die (of­ten on the floor of their cell) with­out ever re­ceiv­ing any timely med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion.”

The com­plaint cites 10 other cases where peo­ple died or be­came se­ri­ously ill in jails where med­i­cal care was pro­vided by Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions and Cor­rec­tional Health­care Com­pa­nies. Five those cases hap­pened in Colorado jails.

The same day that Lil­lis died, a Colorado jury awarded a for­mer Jefferson County in­mate, Ken­neth McGill, $11 mil­lion for fail­ing to pro­vide timely med­i­cal care as he suf­fered a stroke in that county’s de­ten­tion cen­ter. McGill’s law­suit also ac­cused Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions of en­cour­ag­ing a pat­tern of in­dif­fer­ent med­i­cal care to save money.

In March, Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions was named as a de­fen­dant in a fed­eral law­suit filed over the death of an in­mate in the Fre­mont County jail. John Pa­trick Wal­ter’s med­i­ca­tion was abruptly cut off and he suf­fered psy­chotic delu­sions and phys­i­cal abuse by deputies, that law­suit said.

The law­suit, filed on be­half of the family by Hol­land, Hol­land, Ed­wards & Gross­man and the Killmer, Lane & New­man law firms, said the de­lib­er­ately in­dif­fer­ent care vi­o­lated Lil­lis’ 14th and Eighth Amend­ment rights for equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law and free­dom from cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment. It asks for an un­spec­i­fied amount in dam­ages.

Lil­lis is sur­vived by his wife and five chil­dren.

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