Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Rural Alabama jail delayed sending inmate to hospital to avoid paying her medical bill; she died the next day

Washington County
(Wikipedia map)
A rural Alabama jail waited hours before taking a critically ill detainee to the hospital while the administrator tried to figure out a way to keep the county from paying her medical bills. The detainee, Tracie Weaver, died in the hospital the next day from a stroke, Connor Sheets reports for AL.com, in partnership with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

Arthur Ray Busby, then the administrator of the Washington County Jail, was told on June 20, 2016, that Weaver had been vomiting for hours and had dangerously high blood pressure. The dispatcher said a county unit wasn't available to carry Weaver to the hospital, only a mile and a half away. Busby asked the dispatcher to see if Weaver had insurance or Medicaid. Sheets notes, "If Weaver was covered by Medicaid or private health insurance, then her medical bills would not be the county’s responsibility if the sheriff’s office released her from its custody."

Busby said twice in the conversation that Weaver should be released on medical furlough and handed over to a family member. "Typically, medical furloughs are granted to inmates who have terminal illnesses or require outpatient procedures or care for chronic conditions," Sheets reports. "But in this instance, Busby used the term to refer to a process much like that of the 'medical bond,' a tool that AL.com and ProPublica have found sheriffs throughout Alabama pursue to release inmates and avoid being on the hook for their medical bills."

Later that evening, a sheriff's office employee drove Weaver to Washington County Hospital in a sheriff's office vehicle. Doctors told her family she had suffered a stroke, and she was airlifted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center. She was dead by the next evening, Sheets reports. 

Weaver, 43, had been in jail for a week, awaiting trial on a charge of illegally possessing a credit or debit card, and had just completed a month of substance-abuse treatment. A lawsuit filed by her family claims other inmates said she appeared unwell and her health deteriorated for a week as jail staff failed to give her medication. When an inmate told staff that Weaver appeared to be having a stroke, a guard threatened to beat her and use pepper spray on her, then walked away. Sheriff Richard Stringer denied that any inmate has been denied medication, Sheets reports.

The jail has no medical professionals on staff or any who pay periodic visits to the facility. "Settlements have been reached in at least three lawsuits filed against the Washington County Sheriff’s Office over the past decade that claimed it failed to provide adequate health care in the jail, including ones in which inmates were bonded out just prior to hospitalizations," Sheets reports.

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