Wrongful death an issue at Allegheny County Jail
Investigations into wrongful death claims at the Allegheny County Jail is well above the national average. This comes as no surprise as, just a year ago, a new medical vendor began cutting costs while also trying to improve care…and the two things just don’t add up.
Over the last year, at least six people have died while being detained as inmates at the Allegheny County Jail, according to reports. ACJ generally hold about 2400 people, which means that the death rate over the last twelve months is one in four hundred. That number is above average for county jails both around Pennsylvania and throughout the country.
In an interview last Monday, County Manager William McKain said that although every life in the jail is important, there are different reasons for every death. McKain says that the death rate in question, which is also above ACJ numbers compared to recent years, is likely due in part to the individual characteristics of each ACJ inmate.
Among the deaths are Justin Lamb, a 28-year-old man from Tarentum. He died in October, just two months after he became an inmate. Those closest to him say that he entered ACJ with no health issues, but remained detained even after he began turning yellow and jaundiced. This occurred despite his attorney who demanded the young man be hospitalized. When asked about Lamb’s death, county officials had no comment, saying that medical privacy laws and the potential for litigation keeps them from speaking on the matter. County Controller Chelsa Wagner is expected to release an audit of the jail’s infirmary Monday.
For more than a decade, ACJ healthcare was handled by a nonprofit branch of the Allegheny County Health Department. On average during that time, there were about five deaths per year, which is one death for every five hundred inmates. The national average I about one death per every eight hundred inmates at local jail and one death per every seven hundred inmates in all PA jails; this, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
ACJ’s warden, Orlando Harper, says that since he took the job as warden in 2012, he initially noticed that many of the inmates were overmedicated and that there were “a lot of outside medical trips” to local hospitals, which the warden believes to be overly expensive as well as dangerous. In 2012 alone, inmate healthcare costs totaled $12.9 million, up nearly double from $6.9 million in 2003. In hiring the new Tennessee-based medical firm, Corizon, in 2013, ACJ saved a little more than a million dollars and paid Corizon $11.5 million in its first year.
The transition to Corizon has been described as “rocky” by ACJ employees. A Corizon spokesperson was not available for comment, but a message was sent stating the company’s purpose, which is basically to provide the best possible healthcare in the safest possible way. Thus far, Corizon has not been able to curb the yearly death toll. In the last five years, at least twenty-five people have died at ACJ.
Lamb, a father of two small children, died from metastasized pancreatic cancer after showing severe signs of jaundice and other symptoms. He is described as a great father who was working on getting his very young, very promising life back together.
If you have questions about wrongful death or an injury a loved one sustained under care of authorities, please call the Pittsburgh wrongful death and personal injury attorneys at Goodrich and Geist today for a free consultation at 412-766-1455.