A Minnesota mother is suing the correctional facility where her son, Xavier Scullark-Johnson, died after being denied emergency care by his prison nurses. The 27-year-old St. Paul native was less than three months away from his prison release when he passed away in June 2010.
According to new documents obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Scullark-Johnson had already suffered numerous seizures the night that prison nurse Denise L. Garin turned away an ambulance team that a doctor had ordered to be sent for the inmate.
Garin overrode the on-call doctor and demanded that Scullark-Johnson not be transported to the hospital because “protocol” stated that ambulance transports were to be “strictly monitored” in an effort to “cut costs.” The nurse likely was worried about the cost incurred from the prison’s for-profit medical contractor, Corizon. She described the man as “alert, his vital signs were stable, and he responded appropriately,” but the ambulance crew’s report indicated otherwise:
“They say the patient has had three seizures through the night,” a crew member wrote in her June 29, 2010, report. “They believe that he has a seizure [history] but do not know because health services is closed at night. They did not want patient transported.
“They have protocols to deal with the patient,” her notes continue, “and say this is because patient has recently gotten his Dilantin cut in half.”
Dilantin is a drug used to control seizures. An autopsy later showed that Johnson’s Dilantin was “below therapeutic level,” but there is no mention in Garin’s charting why she refused to let the ambulance crew take him to the hospital to have his Dilantin level checked immediately.
Garin’s own report makes no mention of protocols or drug dosages.
Johnson was pronounced dead less than two hours after the ambulance was ordered to leave without him. All accounts indicated that he was found soaked in urine on the floor of his cell, coiled in a fetal position after seizures had caused irreversible brain damage. Garin continues to work for the Rush City prison.
This tragedy marks the glaring problem of using for-profit contractors for medical care in government-run prisons: Private contractors put money before the care of their patients. Other cost-cutting measures have included eliminating doctors from Minnesota prisons after 4 p.m. and on weekends. Nurses continue to remain on staff, but end their shifts at 10:30 p.m., leaving inmates with no immediate access to medical care after hours.
This post has been updated to reflect that nurse Garin is an employee of the state, not of Corizon.