State Report Faults Medical Care Provider in Death of Broome County NY Jail Inmate

DICKINSON,NY. — A 40-year-old inmate was left “in an emergent,life-threatening status without appropriate medical attention” before his death at the Broome County Correctional Facility last year,a state oversight agency has determined.

While a lawsuit filed last week seeks to hold Broome County accountable for the July 20,2011,death of Alvin Rios Jr.,a report by the New York State Commission of Correction accuses a medical services company under contract with the county of failing to follow its own procedures in the hours before the inmate’s death.

Pennsylvania-based Correctional Medical Care Inc. did not respond to phone messages or a written list of questions about the incident. County officials also declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.

According to the commission’s five-page report,obtained by the Press & Sun-Bulletin this week,Rios was arrested at a local motel on July 19,2011,on a warrant for criminal possession of a controlled substance. Rios died the next day of “cardiac arrhythmia produced by cardiomyopathy” — an abnormal heart rhythm stemming from a deterioration of the heart muscle — “from illicit drug use.”

According to the report,CMC failed to implement its own intoxication and withdrawal policy and procedure after Rios was booked into the jail at 4:48 p.m. on the day he was arrested. Medical workers and jail personnel are identified only by their initials in the report,which is heavily redacted.

Among the commission’s findings is that the doctor who was at the jail for more than eight hours on July 20,2011,was never made aware of Rios’ condition. In a statement later to the Commission of Correction,the doctor said he “never touched the chart.”

When questioned by the Commission of Correction,a nurse employed by CMC said the nursing staff “typically utilized sick call protocols and over-the-counter medications,” rather than notifying a physician,when withdrawal symptoms are assessed. CMC’s policy,however,requires the notification of a physician as soon as the potential withdrawal is assessed.

At 4:21 p.m. on July 20,2011,a corrections officer heard a “thud” from Rios’ cell,according to the report.

“Officer D.T. checked on Rios and saw him laying face down and shaking,” the report states. The officer then notified a registered nurse on staff,but Rios was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

“The RN clearly left his patient in an emergent,life-threatening status without appropriate medical attention,” the report states. The report adds the nurse is no longer employed by CMC.

The Commission of Correction produces mortality investigations as part of its oversight responsibilities for jails and prisons in New York state.

Unanswered Questions
The release of the investigation report,through the state’s Freedom of Information Law,comes in the wake of a wrongful-death lawsuit filed last week by Alvin Rios Sr.,the father of the inmate.

The complaint,filed in Broome County Supreme Court,alleges that negligence on the part of personnel at the jail led to the wrongful death of Alvin Rios Jr. Broome County and Sheriff David Harder,in his official capacity,are named as the defendants.

“… Despite calling for medical assistance,and despite (Rios) exhibiting signs and symptoms that could have indicated a heart attack,stroke or catastrophic consequence,no one came to his assistance for a substantial period of time after he first cried out for assistance,” the legal document states.

Rios,who immigrated from Puerto Rico in 1971 and was employed as a painter,was married and had children,according to the commission’s report.

Binghamton-based attorney Ron Benjamin said Rios’ family is “devastated” by his death,and also unsettled by the lack of clarity about the circumstances leading up to it.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Benjamin said.

According to Press & Sun-Bulletin archives,the Broome County Sheriff’s Correction Division on July 21,2011,said an autopsy that day had determined Rios died of an opiate overdose as the consequence of long-term drug abuse.

“It was not caused by an overdose,” Benjamin said. “What may have been going on,at least in part,is that Mr. Rios was experiencing some of the symptoms of withdrawal. And had he been given adequate assistance when he began making complaints,we believe that his life could have been saved.”

Although the lawsuit seeks to hold Broome County liable,the Commission of Correction report focuses on failures on the part of employees of CMC,which has provided medical care at the Broome County jail since 2006 under contracts worth more than $2 million per year.

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PUBLISHED: October 24,2012
BY: – Steve Reilly

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