AG Sues Nassau Jail Medical Provider, Citing Inmate Deaths

Nassau County jail
The Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow.

Roy Nordstrom died after being refused hospitalization for chest pains. Bartholomew Ryan hanged himself despite mental health assessments. Kevin Brown died following inadequate treatment of seizures and hallucinations. And they’re not alone.

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The three men are among five who died since 2011 at Nassau County jail as a result of inadequate medical care, the New York State Commission on Correction alleged in documents obtained by the Press. The accusations sparked New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to file a lawsuit against the jail’s medical provider, Florida-based Armor Correctional Health Medical Services, seeking fines, an independent monitor over healthcare at the jail, and barring the company from bidding on contracts in the state. This case was announced Tuesday—a week after the fifth death at the jail this year and the 12th since 2011, officials said.

“Neglecting the duty to provide adequate care not only defrauds taxpayers, it compromises the health and safety of inmates, with sometimes fatal consequences,” Schneiderman said. “Failing to provide proper health services as required is completely unacceptable.”

Nassau County approved an $11 million annual contract with Armor in 2011. The state has ordered the county legislature, county executive, county sheriff, and Armor to review the corrections commission’s findings and begin corrective measures.

“Any allegation that Armor has failed to provide quality correctional medical care at the facility is simply false,” Armor said in a statement. “Armor has provided a substantial amount of data that simply is contradictory to any claim of deficient patient care. Armor is proud of its work caring for the inmates at the Nassau County facility, and will continue to do so as long as Nassau County wants it to do so. Armor also intends to vigorously defend against claims filed by the Attorney General.”

Representatives for Nassau County Sheriff Michael Sposato and Nassau County Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) did not return requests for comment. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s office issued a statement indicating that the county is hiring a jail healthcare monitor.

“While awaiting findings of the Attorney General, the county formed a team of health and mental health professionals to review the delivery of healthcare,” County Attorney Carnell Foskey said. “The county also hired a Commissioner of Corrections and the Department of Health placed a registered nurse in the facility to serve as a health contract monitor. The county is seeking to retain a correctional healthcare monitor until a provider is selected from the RFP issued earlier this year.”

The county had hired Armor amid Mangano’s push to privatize county services, including the bus system, sewers, and other work historically handled by government workers.

RELATED STORY: Nassau County Jail: Suicides, Healthcare Changes, Budget Cuts Prompt Calls For Oversight

Schneiderman’s lawsuit against Armor alleged that the company did not respond to inmates’ requests for care in a timely manner, failed to provide prescriptions to inmates as needed, failed to effectively diagnose inmates, failed to provide proper mental health services, failed to provide access to off-site medical specialists, understaffed clinical and managerial positions, and did not provide state-mandated reports to show it was addressing prior issues.

In the case of Nordstrom, the 47-year-old Shirley man died on June 11, 2011 after a physician wasn’t contacted despite the fact that he clutched his chest while complaining of chest pain, was having difficulty breathing, and collapsed, according to a state corrections commission investigative report. Instead, Nordstrom was wheeled back to his cell, until the next morning, when he was finally hospitalized, but it was too late. He was serving a 75-day sentence for violating an order of protection.

In Ryan’s case, the 32-year-old Iraq War veteran from East Meadow suffering from PTSD underwent two mental health evaluations, but wasn’t put on suicide watch on Feb. 24, 2014, two days after he was arrested for drugged driving, the state found. An officer who checked on him every 15 minutes found the ex-Marine hanging by a bedsheet from the cell bars, according to the report on his case.

Brown, a 47-year-old Far Rockaway man with known histories of traumatic brain injury, seizures and mental health diagnoses, died Feb. 10, 2014 after being jailed for petty larceny, according to his report. Despite officers witnessing Brown hallucinating and increasingly agitated, his care was lacking before he was found dead in his cell, the state said.

John Gleeson, 40, of Oceanside, died July 14, 2014 after the state said Armor’s staffers misdiagnosed a heart condition two months after he was arrested. The fifth case involved Antonio Marinaccio, 53, of Levittown, who reportedly died at the jail on May 2, 2015.

Aside from lawsuits from the attorney general and the families of the dead inmates, calls for changes at the jail have also been increasing. Lawmakers in the Democratic minority on the county legislature called for intervention, as did inmate advocates. One inmate died March 7, the same day that advocates held a news conference outside the jail in East Meadow to bring attention to the issues. Critics applauded the news that the attorney general filed suit.

“We are emboldened by Attorney General Schneiderman’s action and believe that our voices and protests are finally being heard,” said Dean Hart, president of Long Island Citizens for Good Government. “In our minds, there is no question that Armor Correctional Health Services has defrauded the taxpayers by taking public money and providing deficient services.”