Former jail mental health counselor says infirmary lacks full-time medical staff

December 2, 2015

Lynn Laird worked for Prison Health Services as a mental health counselor in charge of all the men and juveniles in the county jail. Prison Health Services had the contract for medical services during Sheriff Ron McNesby’s first term.

Inweekly sat down with Laird to find out how the jail infirmary was run during his three-year tenure at the facility.

“Under the Prison Health Services, we had an administrator for health services. We had a chief medical officer, M. D., full-time. Full-time psychiatrist and a head nurse. Everybody was full time,” he told Inweekly. He said that was another mental health counselor that was in charge of the female inmates.

Prison Health Services lost its contract for the jail infirmary after two deaths over a 10-month period between 2005 and 2006. Laird believes the reason for the deaths was the sheriff’s administration became too concerned about the costs. Inmates that should have been sent to a local hospital—what he referred as “shipping out”—were kept in the infirmary too long and needed greater medical care.

“They didn’t like us to send people out too much, and that’s how we got in trouble, because of the fact that we were referring them to Baptist Hospital,” said Laird. “That does cost a lot of money, I don’t know exactly what, but we took the position that non-clinicians should not have the authority to overrule the medical staff’s decision to refer an inmate for outside medical or clinical care.”

Laird is concerned at what he has heard about how the jail infirmary has been operated by the county. He believes the infirmary lacks the proper medical and psychological help available on a 24-hour basis.

“As far as I know, ever since the county took over there’s never been a full-time medical doctor and there’s not a full-time head nurse,” he told Inweekly. “Currently there is nobody head of the captain of the ship, who is technically responsible for the care of all of the infirmary.”

He added, “They have a psychiatrist, who’s on contract. I understand his contract says he has to work only so many hours a day and he’s never on call.”

According to Laird, a licensed mental health counselor is currently filling in as the health administrator, and she is currently on medical leave.

“You’ve got to have someone who can make a decision or is responsible, for when shit happens it comes on their head,” said Laird. “Now there ain’t nobody.”

Inweekly asked Laird about how Prison Health Services would have dealt with a case that of Rodney Berry, who died last May after battling vomiting and diarrhea for nearly seven hours.

“Initially he would have been referred to the infirmary. The head nurse probably would have referred him to the medical director who would probably have said, ‘ship him,’ “ said Laird.

Under Prison Health Services, he explained, “The medical doctor was on call 24/7. I mean he worked regular hours, but he was on call. I would say without a doubt; Berry would have been shipped out to Baptist Hospital.”

On Nov. 19, the jail had another death. Samuel Devon Averheart was found unresponsive in the infirmary unit. Two days earlier, Averheart had sent to Baptist Hospital where he was evaluated, treated and released by a physician.

Laird believes the infirmary staff should have insisted the inmate should have stayed longer at the hospital.

“When the hospital wanted to ship the young man back to the jail, it’s my understanding that there’s no one guarding the gate (in the infirmary) to saying maybe not. There’s no one there in that role,” he said.

He believes the lack of a full-time medical doctor at the jail could have made the difference.

Laird said, “You have someone with the power and the balls to say so.”

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