When Winfred Lawrence developed a cough while serving his prison sentence in Arkansas, he asked to see a doctor. Three months later, he was dead.
A treatable case of pneumonia turned deadly after medical staff at the Varner state prison refused to treat Lawrence, according to a lawsuit filed last week against the Arkansas Department of Corrections and the prison’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions which provides mental and physical health care to more than 100 state and federal prisons and 333 jails. The lawsuit came the same week as reports that a county in Georgia ended their contract with Correct Care Solutions following the deaths of five inmates in 75 days.
More than 140 lawsuits have been filed against Correct Care Solutions since 2005, federal court records show.
Both Correct Care Solutions and the Arkansas Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Lawrence developed the cough and breathing problems in September 2014 and asked both guards and medical staff if he could talk to a doctor, but his initial request went unanswered, according to the lawsuit filed by his sister.
The Arkansas Department of Corrections told The Daily Beast that prison protocol for sick patients states that when there is a request describing clear diagnosable symptoms, a “face-to-face encounter between the inmate and a health care services professional is required.”
Instead, Lawrence was allegedly left to fend for himself.
“His only treatment, from what we can see, is Halls cough drops that he purchased himself from the prison commissary,” Lawrence family lawyer Kim Cole told The Daily Beast.
The cough and shortness of breath turned into nausea. Eventually his vomiting became so severe that he could no longer keep down food and water, the lawsuit claims. Medical records later showed that he became septic as his body began to shut down from the infection, Cole said. Staff “continued to ignore his desperate pleas for medical care,” according to the lawsuit.
Two months after Lawrence first asked to see a doctor, he passed out in his cell. He was rushed to a hospital nearby and placed in the intensive care unit, Cole said. The pneumonia, usually treatable with antibiotics, had destroyed his lungs, and he died the next day, the lawsuit claims. Cole said that Lawrence’s sister and his mother did not even know that he was admitted to the hospital until after his death and that they have been forced to rely on medical records to piece together his final hours.
One page stands out. Lawrence’s advance directive signed by prisoners to give instruction to medical staff in case of emergency said, “SAVE MY LIFE,” according to Cole.
“It is bone chilling,” Cole said. “I didn’t even tell his family about that.”
The Lawrence family’s suit against Correct Care Solutions is one of five filed in the past year claiming poor medical treatment at the Varner facility.
Cole believes that Correct Care Solutions is incentivized to deny medical treatment because the company must cover costs of hospital treatment and other care given outside the prison, as stated in the lawsuit.
“It cuts into their bottom line,” said Cole. “If you can get away with putting a Band-Aid on something versus surgery, you’re going to opt for the Band-Aid.”
Despite Lawrence’s death and other inmate complaints of Correct Care Solutions dating back to 2014, Arkansas extended the contract this past summer to June 2018, a representative from the Department of Finance and Administration said in an email.
Meanwhile, Fulton County, Georgia, will end the provider’s contract with the county’s jail after it blamed Correct Care Solutions and subcontractor Morehouse School of Medicine for five inmate deaths since August. “The sole link amongst all five inmates being that they were being medically treated by CCS/MSM,” a Fulton County official wrote in a letter explaining the termination.