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Medics May Have Let Prisoner Die to Save Cash

(CN) - Prison medical staff must face claims that they let a detainee die after ignoring her severe chest pain and bloody vomit so as to avoid paying for her outside treatment, a federal judge ruled.

Dorothy Kenney sued Montgomery County, Pa.; Correctional Medical Care Inc. (CMC); and seven prison medical staff members in federal court on behalf of the late Patricia Pollock.

Shortly after Pollock, then 25, allegedly told her mother that she was severely nauseous on Sept. 22, 2011, Upper Moreland Township police arrested her, and took her to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility to await trial the next day.

When Pollock told a prison nurse that she was in pain, could not move her left arm, and had been taking clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication, for about two years, the nurse recommended benzodiazepine-withdrawal treatment, Kenney said.

Although another nurse allegedly saw Pollock later that day "yelling in her cell that she could not breathe" and "that her chest felt 'like something [was] pressing all the way down to [her] back,'" Dr. Margaret Carrillo refused to order outside treatment or testing, for which Correctional Medical Care would have had to pay, the plaintiff continued.

Pollock, having complained for days, told a nurse that she had been vomiting blood, had rib pain, and could not breathe, so Dr. Carrillo finally saw her and ordered intravenous fluids, judging that she was a drug user susceptible to bacterial endocarditis, Kenney said.

A nurse allegedly found Pollock "naked and wrapped in a sheet for most of the evening shift on the medical unit" and unable "to drink fluids ... without the assistance of her cellmate."

The next morning, Pollock was sent to the emergency room and diagnosed with massive organ failure due to bacterial endocarditis, but her heart stopped during her airlift to another hospital for immediate surgery, the plaintiff claimed.

The complaint asserts claims for state-law negligence, deliberate indifference, failure to train, incentivizing staff to curb outside medical referrals and testing, and wrongful death.

The defendants moved to dismiss, and Senior U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois partially denied the motions last week.

"Dr. Carrillo had been aware of Pollock's shortness of breath, severe chest pain, abnormal echocardiogram, and deteriorating condition for at least 36 hours before she personally saw Pollock for a diagnostic," DuBois wrote. "Further, even when Pollock had deteriorated to the point where 'she had been vomiting blood, that she was suffering from rib pain and weakness, and that she could not breathe,' Dr. Carrillo continued the course of benzodiazepine-withdrawal treatment and did not conduct further diagnostic testing.

"It was not until Sept. 27, 2013, when Pollock was experiencing massive organ failure and required emergency surgery, that Dr. Carrillo referred her to the emergency room," DuBois continued. "Plaintiff further alleges that Dr. Carrillo did not make these decisions with regard to the serious risk to Pollock's health, but rather because she was financially motivated not to order diagnostic testing and/or refer patients for outside treatment.

"These allegations are sufficient to state a claim of deliberate indifference against Dr. Carrillo," the judge ruled.

Though the court tossed aside Nurse Mary Rhinehart's argument that that Dr. Carrillo was solely responsible for Pollock's care, it dismissed the civil rights claims against Christine Irvine R.N., whose involvement in Pollock's care is not detailed in the complaint.

Pollock's administratrix may amend her complaint within 20 days, the ruling states.

When Pollock was arrested, she had been unable to pay 10 percent of her $10,000 bail for retail theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, and DUI charges, a Philadelphia online newspaper, Newsworks, reported.

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