Cowlitz, Clark and Kitsap counties also face lawsuits that allege inmates received poor or questionable medical care while being held at jails.
Inmates and their families are suing Pierce County after they or their loved ones suffered medical problems or died at the jail, and in turn, the county is suing the for-profit company that provided medical services to those inmates, saying it was “wholly inadequate.”
A jury likely would find the operation of the jail medical clinic by the company, Correct Care Solutions/Conmed, was “incompetent, unprofessional and morally reprehensible,” Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Grace Kingman told a Conmed lawyer in a letter acquired by The Associated Press.
Pierce County isn’t alone in dealing with legal challenges to Conmed’s medical services.
Cowlitz, Clark and Kitsap are among the counties facing lawsuits that allege inmates received poor or questionable medical care while being held at the jails.
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“The Cowlitz County cases are based on egregious failures by Conmed,” said Jack Connelly, a lawyer representing families of inmates who died in the jail.
Jim Cheney, a Conmed spokesman, denied the claims. “Our organization is one of the most respected within the public health care industry, and we have never condoned, nor will we ever condone, unprofessional behavior in any of our facilities,” Cheney said in an email. “The litigation involves a contractual dispute, and the sensational claims made against our team are a distraction from the actual issues.”
He declined to comment further.
Among the allegations:
• A Kitsap County Jail inmate died while going through heroin withdrawals.
• A Clark County Jail inmate who suffered from schizoaffective disorder and other mental illnesses wasn’t given his medications and died during an altercation with officers.
• Four inmates died in the Cowlitz County Jail between 2013 and 2014 while needing medical attention.
• A Pierce County inmate didn’t get his medications and suffered two seizures and a fall that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and fractures to his eye sockets and wrist.
Dan Hamilton, a Pierce County deputy prosecutor, said a yearlong contract with Conmed/Correct Care Solutions resulted in 11 legal claims and four lawsuits over medical care, so the county is fighting back.
It hired Conmed to provide medical and dental services at the jail starting in February 2014. But from the start, Conmed failed in a list of areas: significant pharmacy problems; staffing shortages and almost weekly turnover; delay in medical care; failure to provide basic services; and poor record keeping, according to Kingman’s letter to the company.
After repeated complaints to the company, Pierce County decided to stop paying Conmed, in hopes that it would fix the problems, Hamilton said. Conmed kept asking for more time, and the county obliged, but the troubles continued, he said.
The county eventually ended the contract and found another provider. Conmed filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court seeking payment, but the county continued to refuse to pay, arguing Conmed was the one at fault.
“Indeed, the only things that Conmed can fault the County for are (1) believing Conmed when they made assurances that they would implement measures to bring their operation of the clinic up to medical standards and (2) giving Conmed time to accomplish it,” Kingman said.
The lawsuit could help the other counties that are being sued by inmates, she said.
“A lawsuit against Pierce County could flush out Conmed’s deplorable performance in running the medical clinic, which would not only result in considerable cost and embarrassment to CCS/Conmed, but would also provide evidence to support claims filed by other institutions who suffered the same disappointment as Pierce County,” she said.
The county last month filed a countersuit asking the judge to throw out Conmed’s claim and demanding restitution for payment for services not provided, and for all damages caused by Conmed’s conduct.
Those damages would include the lawsuits filed by inmates or their families.
“We’re being sued, and the contract says they’re supposed to defend us. That was the deal,” Hamilton said. “But that’s another aspect of the contract they breached.”