Inmates' deaths queried

County jail health care upsets families of 2 men

January 19, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The death of a second Baltimore County Detention Center inmate in 13 days is raising new questions about health care in the jail system.

William McFadden Jr., 46, of Baltimore, was placed in a holding cell at the Wilkens Precinct Jan. 5 and transferred to the detention center in Towson three days later. He died Jan. 10 of intestinal bleeding. Family members said he complained of not receiving treatment for much of his incarceration.

A longtime heroin user who had repeatedly failed to appear in court on a 1998 theft charge, McFadden was jailed a day after his release from Bon Secours Hospital, where he had been admitted after suffering strokelike symptoms. Family members said he spent four days in the hospital.

Prescriptions for blood pressure medication and a nutritional supplement he brought from the hospital were not filled by police or jail staff, the family said.

County officials say that McFadden received prompt attention after he arrived at the main jail on Kenilworth Drive. Officials say he was taken immediately to the jail's medical ward, where he remained until he was taken to Greater Baltimore Medical Center the day he died. But county officials said they could not by law disclose the treatment he received or whether he received medication called for in his prescriptions.

It could not be determined yesterday whether he received treatment at the Wilkens Precinct.

The McFadden case follows the death Dec. 29 of inmate Phillip E. Wheeler, 44, of Baltimore. Wheeler's family maintained his health complaints were ignored during a four-day jail stay. An inmate wrote, in a letter to The Sun, that jail health workers were slow to respond to indications that Wheeler may have been suffering a heart attack.

County officials did not disclose the Wheeler or McFadden deaths until asked about them by The Sun.

"How are they doing this? They are killing people," said Evangeline Diggs, McFadden's fiancee, speaking yesterday in her Sandtown-Winchester home an hour before his funeral. "I love this man. They are not going to get away with this."

McFadden died after making repeated telephone calls to family members complaining that he was ill. After his death, the prescription orders were returned to family members, along with his wallet, keys and other belongings.

Although an autopsy report has not been completed, the state medical examiner said yesterday that McFadden died of lower gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, complicated by cirrhosis, with contributory hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. According to his death certificate, McFadden died at 12:53 p.m., about 10 hours after being taken to the hospital.

County officials say they followed proper procedures for both McFadden and Wheeler. Elise Armacost, a county spokeswoman, called it "a coincidence that two men got sick and died at the jail" in a short span.

She said the county is under no obligation to report deaths immediately, although under county policy inmate deaths are investigated by the Police Department's internal affairs division.

Jail health care in Baltimore County is provided by a private company, Prison Health Services of Brentwood, Tenn., which signed a $16.3 million contract in June.

Larry Pomeroy, a company spokesman, said he could not immediately provide information about McFadden's death yesterday. Pomeroy has said the Wheeler death is under review.

McFadden's sister, Linda Drake, said her brother looked ill as she helped him leave the hospital.

"They thought he had a stroke, but it was anemia," Drake said. "When they got ready to check him out, he looked weak."

According to court documents, two lawsuits have been filed since 1998 by inmates alleging that jail staffers did not provide their medications. Both suits are pending.

Sun staff writer Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

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