by Jordan Green and Eric Ginsburg
As Ellin and Michael Schott finished their early-morning breakfast at Carolina’s Diner in west Greensboro, they briefly considered going back to Ellin’s room at the Red Roof Inn. Recently divorced and back and forth for counseling, things were starting to look up for Ellin, who struggled with opioid addiction for almost 15 years. But Michael felt that Ellin was starting to pull her life back together. She hadn’t talked to their teenaged son in months and didn’t have anywhere stable to live, but he’d been paying her to help with his newspaper delivery route.
That morning, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, Michael wanted to go back to her hotel room and fool around. But as the sun rose, Ellin knew it would be prime panhandling time, an activity that embarrassed her but that she nonetheless relied on. So Michael paid her $30 and dropped her off near the intersection of Regional Road and Highway 68 around 8 a.m., and Ellin danced away for his benefit. Before she left, she assured him, “We’re going to be okay.”
Hours later, a Greensboro police officer picked Ellin up for panhandling without a license, her third time breaking the city ordinance in a narrow window. Unable to make bond, Ellin would spend the weekend in jail until her hearing that Monday, but she never made it to the hearing. Suffering from repeated seizures after being denied her prescribed anti-seizure medication at Greensboro Jail Central, emergency responders rushed Ellin to the hospital early that Monday morning. A few days later, Ellin Beth Schott — a 57-year-old Greensboro resident and mother of two — passed away.
Family members describe young Ellin Reinhard as the type of person who could’ve taken on the world. The middle of three kids born in Schenectady, NY, Ellin stood out with her athletic talent, academic prowess and beauty, her younger brother Steve recalls.
She swam and played tennis, excelling enough at the latter enough to land a scholarship at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ, her mother Lenoir said. There she studied accounting and graduated cum laude, as she had in high school, and immediately found work, Lenoir said.
Ellin had been outgoing and quickly made friends when she was young, but Lenoir noticed a change around puberty.
“She considered herself the overlooked child,” Lenoir said, adding that her only daughter lacked self-esteem. Ellin’s brother Steve, now a successful lawyer in Raleigh, said his sister’s view of herself and likely middle-child syndrome followed her throughout her life.
“I think she felt sometimes like she was strapped in with both hands, in that she tried to compete with her brothers,” he said, adding that she followed their older brother Ken to college. “I think Ellin, at times, felt like she had to keep up. She was viewed as kind of, you know, always struggling to find out how to keep up.”
Ellin hated accounting from the first day, said Lenoir, who is unsure of why her daughter chose to study it in the first place. Maybe it isn’t surprising, then, that Ellin bounced from job to job, relocating repeatedly. Steve attributes that to his sister’s personality.
“She never seemed to be able to hold a job for a significant period of time,” he said, adding that Ellin “always had reasons as to why things didn’t work out and usually it was somebody else’s issues as to why it didn’t. She typically felt blameless; she was the victim. In the family at least, her narrative was she was always the victim.”
Steve said the family used to joke that Ellin had a job “working off every exit off the New Jersey Turnpike,” but Ellin also moved across state lines, often visiting her family who had relocated to Greensboro in 1977. After moving to Richmond, Va., Ellin met her first husband, Mitch, and a lifelong friend named Sarah Scott Thomas.
[pullquote]“My joke is my sister was in court more times than I was.” — Steve Reinhard[/pullquote]“Ellin was very smart,” Thomas said. “She had a really good job… she had a house, she was on top of her game. We all kind of laughed that Mitch had done really well for himself and we weren’t sure how he did that.”
When the couple moved to Florida, Thomas and Ellin remained friends. But there, going through a complicated pregnancy, Ellin’s new employer fired her. She sued for wrongful termination, but lost. While adding the caveat that he isn’t an employment lawyer, Steve said this looked like another case of Ellin playing the victim and failing to take responsibility. His sister would go on to sue in other instances, and though Steve said that there may have been a case or two where she was genuinely victimized, he generally views it as Ellin just being Ellin.
“My joke is my sister was in court more times than I was,” he said.
Her husband didn’t have a job, and without Ellin’s income, the couple struggled, Thomas said. Ellin battled health issues — some of them dating back to repeated car accidents in college, but since Ellin was on her mother’s insurance, Lenoir can say with confidence that those accidents weren’t Ellin’s fault. Her son Hunter arrived prematurely, and wasn’t well at first either, Thomas said. It all overwhelmed the relatively new marriage, and Ellin returned to Greensboro when the pair split.
She would later meet Michael Schott, who worked as a senior project manager for a construction company until 2009, assisting on major projects such as the renovation of Center Pointe condos in downtown Greensboro. Ellin and Michael married in 1997, and Ellin gave birth to her second son Jacob in 1998.
From Thomas’ vantage point in Richmond, Ellin seemed to be doing very well. With kids around the same age, the two friends made a considerable effort to be in each other’s lives, taking trips to the zoo in Asheboro together, meeting up in South Boston, Va. and bringing their kids to Gettysburg together. Before settling down, Thomas and Ellin used to go out a lot, but “once we had kids, the bar thing was done,” and Ellin acclimated to parenthood and married life with Michael, Thomas said.
“She was an immaculate housekeeper,” Thomas said. “Her house was fantastic and I was almost embarrassed when she would come to stay with me. She and Mike really worked on that house.”
But in 2001, Michael saw the first signs of Ellin’s painkiller abuse. And Hunter, her older son, would develop a serious drug problem. By 2012, a fight over whether Ellin’s desire to take care of her adult son was enabling his addiction directly contributed to the couple’s separation, Michael said. At first, Ellin and her sons moved into an apartment together, but they were evicted for nonpayment of rent, Michael said. They later moved in with Lenoir, and Ellin used her father’s recent passing and her mother’s sickness as an excuse to quit her job, Lenoir said.
Ellin had doted on her father, her brother Steve said, and had generally been incredibly helpful in his final days. And she did what she could to be there for her mother, going to play bingo with her, Thomas said. But by this point, Ellin couldn’t take care of herself, let alone anyone else.
Jacob, who is now 18 and just graduated from high school, said her health was “in the dumps,” and there were times that she “looked like a skeleton with flesh on it.” She frequently didn’t keep food in the house, and Lenoir would give her money for groceries that Ellin would instead spend on drugs. Michael believed Ellin would sell her Oxycontin, for which she had a prescription, for Oxycodone. There were times Ellin would take Jacob’s things and pawn them, he said.
Jacob said his mother didn’t like to show weakness, refusing to use a walker in the house despite her severe pain, and he remembers being scared when his mother described seeing shapes and temporary blindness. Michael speculated that Ellin didn’t seek more medical treatment for her litany of health problems because the two were locked in a custody battle and said that Ellin lacked healthcare coverage. Instead she pretended everything was fine, but Jacob and Lenoir — who lived with her — knew the situation was deteriorating.
Lenoir tried to take Ellin’s prescription and hide it inside her pillowcase so she could ration her daughter’s medication. Within two days, Ellin had ferreted out the pills’ location.
“She got to them without waking me up,” Lenoir said. “That’s when I said, ‘If you want to kill yourself, be my guest. I give up.’”
Other family members, including Steve, had reached their wit’s end as well, feeling like they’d done all they could for Ellin. Her brothers Steve and Ken, who owned their mother’s house, had allowed Ellin to stay there in exchange for modest rent and on the condition that she started taking care of herself and that Hunter didn’t stay there. She didn’t follow through on any front, but the situation reached a breaking point when the brothers learned that she was stealing from Lenoir, and they made the painful decision to kick her out.
Thomas wanted to invite Ellin to stay with her family in Richmond, but her husband didn’t agree. Ellin kept her opioid addiction from them, but they worried that Hunter — who couldn’t be reached for comment for this story — wasn’t in a good place with his own drug addiction. Thomas had been through something similar before — her brother was an addict and at one point left treatment. After Thomas decided not to rescue her brother, he eventually did turn his life around. Now “he’s doing great,” Thomas said, and she hoped the same would happen with Ellin.
“My husband said we weren’t helping her by [taking her in], and that she needed to pull herself up by her bootstraps,” Thomas said. “He called and told her it wasn’t going to work, which is something that I struggle with every day today.”
Thomas sent her some money to help her find somewhere to live, but still feels guilty she couldn’t do more for her close friend.
In early 2015, Jacob called 911 after his mother suffered a seizure. That’s when he asked to live with his father. In the month’s leading up to her death, Jacob and other family members including Steve stopped talking with Ellin. It was just too painful.
(Read more by clicking Page 2 below)
Ellin Schott was no stranger to Greensboro police Officer AP Costigliola, who had also issued her second citation for panhandling without a license in the space of 18 days. This was her third violation, and he also charged her with soliciting in a travel lane when he arrested her at 1:30 p.m. that Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.
Magistrate C. Jenkins set Schott’s bond at $1,000, and scheduled her court date for 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 28 in Guilford County Court. Jenkins noted on a court document justifying the imposition of a secured bond that Schott had been arrested on two charges, and had another pending case for the same charge. The magistrate added a handwritten note: “Defendant states she will continue to solicit alms/beg for money to get money to support her son’s heroin addiction.”
It would have been impossible for Ellin to make bail on her own: An affidavit of indigency for a previous arrest in March listed her entire assets as $25 in a bank account and her 2013 Toyota Corolla, which was valued at $13,000.
And Michael, her ex-husband, wasn’t inclined to come to the rescue.
After her booking at the Greensboro Jail Central, Michael recalls Ellin calling him “multiple times” to try to get him to post bail.
“I’ll tell you flat out: I didn’t approve of her panhandling, but she was bound and determined she was gonna do it,” Michael Schott said. His reasons were manifold: He continued to worry that Ellin was enabling Hunter’s addiction. And he thought that letting her stay in jail would make a point to her, and prod her to get her life together.
“Like most people, I assumed — and this is a biggie — I assumed she was safe,” Michael reflected. “There’s less likelihood of something happening to her when she’s in custody than when she’s out on a damn street corner.”
[pullquote]”Nurse Crouch reported [that Ellin] appeared to be having multiple seizures and was going in and out of them. She was periodically cognizant, and would speak and respond to questions. She advised Nurse Whiteside that she took seizure medication and had not received it since coming into detention.” — medical examiner’s report[/pullquote]Ellin’s health deteriorated almost immediately in jail.
Correct Care Solutions, a private company based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., holds a contract with Guilford County to provide health services to inmates. Detention notes, as reflected in a written summary by Medical Examiner Jacqueline Perkins, a registered nurse in the forensic nursing department at Cone Hospital, indicate that Ellin told staff at the jail “that she had seizures, nerve damage, and was disabled.” The detention notes also recorded that she took Keppra and Gabapentin, which are anti-seizure medications. On Saturday, the second day of her confinement, she complained of “leg pains and muscle spasms.” Later that day, the notes indicate she was observed shaking and trembling under her blanket. According to Perkins’ written summary, Schott told a nurse that she was on medication, to which he responded that he would need to talk to a doctor and all he could give her in the meantime was Tylenol.
The pain continued into Sunday with reports indicating that Ellin “continues to moan and call for help.”
Ellin’s final episode of distress at the jail, logged at 3 a.m. on Monday, is worth quoting directly from the medical examiner’s summary:
“On 8/24/15 0300 (still in jail), two officers heard heavy breathing in Ellin’s room/cell. They saw she was perspiring and breathing rapidly. Called several people to include Nurse Karen Crouch, who called EMS and reported inmate had seizure. Nurse Crouch reported [that Ellin] appeared to be having multiple seizures and was going in and out of them. She was periodically cognizant, and would speak and respond to questions. She advised Nurse Whiteside that she took seizure medication and had not received it since coming into detention.”
The seizures continued and Ellin was sweating heavily when she arrived at the emergency room at Cone Hospital. Although she responded well to a dose of Keppra, her condition worsened on her second day in the hospital. Her family made the decision to remove Ellin from mechanical respiration and life support that night, Michael said, but Cone Hospital agreed to keep her on life support until the next day at noon so he could contact the rest of her family to be with her when she passed away.
Almost a month later, Perkins’ investigation concluded that the immediate cause of Ellin Schott’s death was “complications of prolonged seizure activity.”
Ellin Schott’s death two days after being received from Greensboro Jail Central is only the latest example of a troubled history of poor medical care for inmates in the Triad’s two biggest jails, both currently under Correct Care Solutions as well as a previous healthcare provider.
Bryan O’Neil Simmons, a 36-year-old inmate who was serving a 90-day sentence on a parole violation, collapsed while being escorted to the medical ward, according to an account by US District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder. Simmons “went into cardiac arrest caused by internal bleeding from a perforated ulcer,” according to Schroeder. Simmons’ family describes his current condition as “a permanent vegetative state.”
Simmons’ parents allege that they received a phone call from another inmate at the jail on the day before their son’s heart attack indicating that he had collapsed on the floor and urinated on himself. They said they immediately drove to the jail and asked to see their son, but were reassured that he was okay. They didn’t think their son would be asking to be taken to the hospital unless his condition was serious, considering that he was only two days away from release, and pleaded with staff, to no avail.
Simmons’ family alleges in a lawsuit filed in federal court in August 2014 that Corizon had a policy or custom “to outright deny medical treatment or be deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs” of inmates at the jail, and that the policy caused Simmons’ current medical condition. Along with Corizon, Sheriff BJ Barnes and Guilford County are defendants in the suit.
“While in the cell and as recorded on video, Simmons vomited blood repeatedly and begged the Guilford County detention officers and the nursing staff of Corizon (who provided health services to the jail) to allow him to go to the hospital,” the complaint alleges. “Simmons repeatedly told the jail staff and nurses that ‘he was bleeding on the inside’ and he could feel the blood ‘churning’ in his stomach. He is seen on the video pleading for help and drawing the word ‘HELP’ and ‘9-1-1” in the air with his finger.’ On the video, one Corizon nurse identifies Simmons’ blood on the floor as from the ‘gastric’ and says ‘ulcer probably.’”
Corizon has denied that its employees acted with deliberate indifference.
Earlier this year, Sheriff Barnes and Guilford County filed a counter-claim against Corizon for breach of contract. The company claimed in response that the county and the sheriff owe Corizon “a contractual duty to indemnify and defend them” from claims made by the plaintiffs that arise from acts or omissions of the detention staff.
Correct Care Solutions, which assumed responsibility for inmate health services at neighboring Forsyth County jail in September 2012, has also presided over its share of tragedies.
Dino Vann Nixon, 55, died in the Forsyth County jail after 25 days in confinement while awaiting trial on heroin trafficking charges. Nixon’s family alleges in a lawsuit against Correct Care Solutions and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office that medical staff at the jail refused to give him Xanax, a prescribed anti-anxiety medication that is also known as benzodiazepine, leading directly to his death. A report by the local medical examiner lends credence to the claim, finding that his death “was related to withdrawal from benzodiazepines.”
Contrary to the findings of the medical examiner, Correct Care Solutions denies that Nixon’s death was related to withdrawal from benzodiazepines. Both the healthcare company and the county deny that they could have taken steps to prevent Nixon from experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, while maintaining that he received appropriate medical care in the jail.
Meanwhile, in 2014 Guilford County dropped Corizon as a provider, and awarded its contract for inmate healthcare to Correct Care Solutions. Maj. Chuck Williamson, commander of court bureau services for Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, said the switch was not prompted by any particular concern about the quality of care provided to inmates by Corizon, but said the contract simply expired. Williamson said Correct Care Solutions was selected to provide medical services to inmates in the county’s three detention facilities, which house an average of 19,000 inmates per year, largely on the strength of its references.
Less than three months after Correct Care Solutions took over the contract for inmate health services in Guilford County, another inmate at the jail in neighboring Forsyth experienced a tragedy.
Jen McCormack, 31, died at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem less than a week after a 16-day stay in the Forsyth County jail. McCormack was pregnant, in withdrawal from opioids and had recently attempted suicide when she was booked into the jail on felony charges of prescription drug fraud. Her mother told Triad City Beat that she had turned over McCormack’s Suboxone, a prescribed opioid treatment medication, to medical staff at the jail, but it’s not clear whether it was ever administered to her because Correct Care Solutions has declined to comment on the matter. McCormack’s mother also tried to give the medical staff her daughter’s prescribed Xanax, but said the staff refused to accept it.
During her confinement, McCormack experienced several falls and episodes of urinary incontinence. The medical examiner indicated that McCormack died from dehydration — a finding that dovetails with a theory promoted by medical staff that she was staging a hunger strike. The medical examiner acknowledged that he had not been aware of internal reports indicating that McCormack had been experiencing urinary incontinence.
The city of Greensboro requires panhandlers to obtain a privilege license before soliciting alms from the public. The licenses are free, but they impose tight restrictions, including banning people who have been convicted of one of more violent crimes in the past 10 years and preventing people from asking for money within 100 feet of an ATM, outside a movie theater or on private property. Ellin Schott had told Michael, her ex-husband, that she had gone downtown to apply for the license, but a representative of the city of Greensboro said there is no record of Ellin having put in an application.
Greensboro City Council unanimously adopted the panhandling ordinance in September 2012.
Among the concerns expressed by Mayor Nancy Vaughan — then serving as an at-large member of city council — was that panhandlers were putting themselves and motorists at risk by panhandling in medians. Commenting on a woman she encountered panhandling on a thin concrete median at the intersection of Battleground Avenue and Cone Boulevard, Vaughan told two panhandlers who had addressed council: “It’s dangerous. It’s easy for her to get hit. It’s tough for her to stop traffic. It’s a very busy intersection. We have to take your safety into consideration and we have to take the safety of the drivers and the public into consideration.”
[pullquote]“A 57-year-old woman panhandling on Regional Road — that offense was worth carting her downtown, booking her in jail, and denying her access to her anti-seizure medication? That panhandling violation was worth her life? If that’s what we’re saying, then we have bigger issues that we need to address.” — Michelle Kennedy[/pullquote]Michelle Kennedy, executive director of the Interactive Resource Center — an organization that provides assistance to people experiencing homelessness — expressed dismay that Ellin Schott was arrested and put in jail simply for violating the panhandling ordinance.
“Arresting people and jailing them for panhandling serves no useful purpose,” she said. “All that’s going to do is ensure that they’re going to have a harder time finding any other means of making money.
“A 57-year-old woman panhandling on Regional Road — that offense was worth carting her downtown, booking her in jail, and denying her access to her anti-seizure medication?” Kennedy continued. “That panhandling violation was worth her life? If that’s what we’re saying, then we have bigger issues that we need to address.”
With the deaths of Dino Vann Nixon and Jen McCormack in the rearview mirror and the ink barely dry on a lawsuit filed against Correct Care Solutions by Nixon’s family, it seems inexplicable that medical staff in neighboring Guilford County apparently failed to ensure that Ellin Schott had access to her anti-seizure medication during her brief jail stay.
An entry for Keppra, the prescribed anti-anxiety medication Schott was taking, on the website drugs.com, warns: “Do not stop using Keppra without first talking to your doctor, even if you feel fine. You may have increased seizures if you stop using Keppra suddenly.”
Michael Schott, Ellin’s ex-husband, said her medications, including Keppra, were back at the hotel room at Red Roof Inn on Regional Road near her panhandling spot. There’s no indication, he said, that jail staff made any effort to retrieve Ellin’s meds.
Michael also said that Ellin had an open prescription for Keppra at a Harris Teeter pharmacy in Greensboro.
“They didn’t need to get a new prescription,” Michael said. “Somebody could have gone and picked them up at Harris Teeter. They may not even have needed to order them.”
Correct Care Solutions did not respond to a question about why its staff did not take action to ensure that Ellin was provided her Keppra or Gabapentin. Nor did the company respond to a question about why a doctor was not on site to sign off on Ellin receiving Keppra or why she wasn’t transferred to a hospital for emergency medical care on the second day of her confinement when she was found shaking and trembling under her blanket.
If details dredged up from lawsuits, interviews with family members and medical examiners reports suggest inmates in local jails experience a second-class healthcare system, Correct Care Solutions goes to significant lengths to promote a significantly different picture.
Although the company did not respond to requests for comment for this story, Correct Care Solutions’ website suggests a clinical setting where employees take pride in delivering excellent care.
“From firsthand experience, we often learn that our patients are appreciative of the care they receive, which fosters a sense of importance for our professionals who support these men and women,” the website says. “In fact, we often hear from our team members that they feel compelled to serve their community, and that their work for CCS often fulfills their desire to help others.”
CEO Jorge Domenicis says in a video posted on the website: “When you think of our patients, they tend to be the most underserved, and I think there’s no greater calling than to work with and care for those people who have historically been left out or received the least healthcare.”
Jerry Boyle, Correct Care Solutions’ executive chairman, adds, “We ask the question every day: What if it was your family member?”
And Domenicis continues, “We’ve really become a provider of public health, and we’re exploring all the areas in which government is trying to provide healthcare directly. So I think the future is incredibly bright. This is gonna be a company that continues to grow, continues to invest in its people, continues to provide the highest quality care to its patients.”
The truth of how Ellin Schott died did not emerge until after she was buried in the Greensboro Hebrew Cemetery. According to the medical report prepared by Jacqueline Perkins, Fred Guttman — one of Ellin’s rabbis at Temple Emanuel — made an inquiry about Schott’s death to police Chief Wayne Scott, who referred the matter to Capt. Mike Richey, commander of the criminal investigations division. Richey then called Perkins.
“I had not been notified of her death and that she was an inmate at the sheriff’s detention center [in] downtown Greensboro,” Perkins wrote in her report. “It should have been referred, and I will have to investigate.”
Perkins declined to comment for this story, saying that she was wary of granting interviews considering that Schott’s death will likely be litigated.
Assistant District Attorney JD Henderson dismissed charges against Schott several hours after she was transferred from the jail to the hospital, explaining in a handwritten note: “Defendant in intensive care in hospital.” And although Perkins’ report indicates that Schott died in custody, jail records reflect that in fact she was released from custody only 10 minutes after charges were dropped — two days before her death.
By state law, local medical examiners are required to be notified any time a death occurs in jail, in police custody or “under any suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstance.” The law tasks a host of people with making the notification, including “a physician in attendance, hospital employee,” or a “law-enforcement officer,” without providing specific guidance about who is responsible for making the call under which particular circumstances.
“The sheriff’s office did not notify the county medical examiner because Ms. Schott’s death did not occur in one of our jails nor in our custody,” Jim Secor, the sheriff’s attorney, said in an emailed statement to Triad City Beat. “In fact, Ms. Schott’s passing occurred at Moses Cone Hospital more than two full days after she left Jail Central. My reading of the […] statute is that the ‘physician in attendance’ at Moses Cone Hospital (where Ms. Schott passed away) or a designated ‘hospital employee’ of Moses Cone Hospital would have been the logical party to make the notification, and the sheriff’s office would have relied on upon the hospital to do so.”
When asked whether the sheriff’s office should have gone ahead and contacted the medical examiner just to be on the safe side, Secor responded that “parsing through the language of the statute, as you are doing, is injudicious when the common-sense answer is that Ms. Schott was not in our custody when she passed away.”
Doug Allred, a spokesperson for Cone Health, declined to comment on why staff at the hospital did not refer Ellin’s death to the medical examiner, citing a federal law protecting patient privacy.
Deborah Humphrey, also a spokesperson for Cone, said in an email it’s unclear whether Ellin’s demise “was a sudden, unexpected death and that her death was not reasonably related to known previous disease.” She added, “Prior incarceration has absolutely no bearing on the applicable ME reporting rules for hospitals in this instance.”
Michael and Ellin Schott finalized their divorce in March 2015, but by late summer the two were “exploring possibly getting back together,” Michael said.
“I’d do a check on her,” he said, explaining that it seemed like she had been able to kick her addiction after a couple hospital stays. “I’d put her up in hotels occasionally. And we slept together a couple times.”
Thanks to Salem Neurological Center in Winston-Salem, Ellin appeared to be “on a good regimen” of medication including anti-seizure meds Keppra and Gabapentin.
“I’m sort of an expert on Ellin,” Michael said. “We had been together like a week before her arrest. I was thorough. This had healed, that had healed. [There were] no marks between her toes, and no indication that she was anything but bright-eyed and bushy tailed.”
Thomas corroborates Michael’s narrative, adding that Ellin was gaining needed weight and was clear-eyed again. Though Ellin never talked to Thomas directly about her addiction, Thomas would talk to Michael sometimes to get the scoop.
“She seemed really good,” Thomas said. “And he was helping her. He wasn’t letting her back living with him, but between what I spent and what he was giving her, she was in hotels for a period of time. I think it was possible that she would’ve come out of this okay. I had hopes.”
Being homeless and panhandling embarrassed Ellin, Michael said, and she would wonder aloud how she ended up in that position. Ever grateful for the help of strangers, Ellin kept a small notebook with a list on names and ages of people who gave her money.
“The point of that was that she wanted to write an article… about getting by on the kindness of strangers,” Michael said. “She said her biggest contributors, people who were nicest to her, were young, black males. But it was quite a range, including the police officers. [They] gave her money, went and got her food.”
Jacob didn’t share his father’s optimism, and neither did Ellin’s mother Lenoir. A few days after what would’ve been Ellin’s birthday, they reflected on Ellin’s fate during a meal at a Ruby Tuesday down the street from the Jewish cemetery where Ellin is buried.
“She should not have died the way she did,” Lenoir said, “but we saw it coming.”
Jacob expressed similar sentiment.
“The fact that she died didn’t surprise me, but the way she did disgusts me,” he said, blaming corporate greed for his mother’s untimely passing.
Her brother Steve is still trying to make sense of everything that happened, especially everything that happened before Ellin’s arrest.
“She was a bright, capable person who allowed her life to spiral down, and that’s the sadness,” he said. “There was so much potential in that person. She was absolutely fantastic with my father. She was so patient; she was always over there. There was a lot of good in her. I think candidly the substance issues finally overtook everything. Deep down there’s some anger I have because of all the potential she had, and it just kind of got wasted.”
[pullquote]“The fact that she died didn’t surprise me, but the way she did disgusts me.” — Jacob Schott[/pullquote]Ultimately Ellin was responsible for her own life, Steve said, but he said there’s more to it as well.
“I hold her responsible but… I think had she dealt with some of her self-esteem issues in her late teens, [there] might’ve been a very different outcome,” he said. “I blame the medical profession and now there’s amazing exposure being given to this, about doctors writing prescriptions to opioids like I change my underwear. Why do we do that?
“I wouldn’t say it was the cause of Ellin’s situation in the end but it certainly was a big contributing factor,” he continued. “She was a really sweet person before the substances took over her life. And it’s amazing how that can consume a person.”
Michael is concerned about the prevalence of opioid addiction too, but he’s also dug into the specifics of Ellin’s passing while Steve and Lenoir have opted not to relive the trauma. Standing in the cemetery a couple dozen feet from Ellin’s headstone on a blistering summer afternoon, Michael offered a distillation of his takeaways.
“I have three observations I’d like to make,” he said. “We need less addictive painkillers to be prescribed. We need better social care for addicts and the poor. And No. 3, we need inmate care to be done by people who care for the inmates more than the bottom line.”
Correct Care Solutions responded through a spokesperson after this story went to press. The following is a list of detailed questions, followed by responses from the company.
The medical examiner’s report for decedent Ellin Schott indicates that the probable cause of Schott’s death was “complications of prolonged seizure activity.” The medical examiner’s report, based on interviews with detention officials and medical staff and review of medical documents, also indicates that Schott notified medical staff during intake that she suffered seizures and took Keppra and Gabapentin (anti-seizure medications), that during her confinement at Guilford County Jail from Aug. 21-24, 2015, Schott complained of “nerve damage in her legs,” “leg pains and muscle spasms” and that she was “shaking and trembling.” Further, the report indicates that when Schott complained to a nurse, the nurse said that all she could give her for pain relief was Tylenol without a doctor’s authorization. The medical examiner’s report goes on to say that Schott suffered multiple seizures in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, before she was transferred to Cone Hospital. Schott’s ex-husband indicates to Triad City Beat that Schott’s prescribed anti-seizure medications were back at her hotel room and could have been retrieved at any time, and further that she had an open prescription at a local pharmacy in Greensboro that could have been accessed over the weekend of her detention.
- Why did Correct Care Solutions employees not take action to ensure that Schott was provided her prescribed medications, specifically Keppra and Gabapentin?
- Was Schott’s death preventable?
- Was a doctor on site at the jail on the weekend of Aug. 22-23 to assess Schott’s condition and ensure that she received any medically necessary care? If not, why?
- Why wasn’t Schott transported to a hospital for emergency care on Aug. 22 when she was observed “shaking and trembling under her blanket,” or at any other time prior to experiencing multiple seizures in the early morning hours of Sept. 24?
“Due to healthcare privacy regulation, CCS is unable to comment on any specific circumstances related to an individual patient. CCS employees are trained medical professionals whose top priority is providing the highest standard of care to all patients we serve. We take the death of any patient very seriously and conduct an internal review of our team’s performance in the event of an incident such as this one to ensure that protocol was followed.”
Background and questions regarding Dino Vann Nixon:
The autopsy for Dino Vann Nixon, who died in Forsyth County Jail in August 2013, indicates that his death “was related to withdrawal from benzodiazepines.” A complaint filed by Nixon’s alleges that Correct Care Solutions employees knew that Nixon took Xanax (benzodiazepine). The complaint alleges that medical staff did not provide Xanax to Mr. Nixon.
- Why did Correct Care Solutions employees not take action to ensure that Nixon was provided prescribed medication, specifically Xanax? Were any actions taken to ascertain Nixon’s prescription for Xanax? If so, what specific actions were taken? Did Correct Care Solutions have Xanax in stock at the Forsyth County Jail during the period of Nixon’s confinement?
- Was Nixon’s death preventable?
- Why wasn’t Nixon transported to a hospital as early as July 19, when a nurse reported that Nixon was hallucinating and crawling around the floor on his hands and knees, or at any other time prior to his death?
“CCS is unable to comment on healthcare provided to individual patients, and we are unable to comment on incidents which are being actively litigated.”
Background and questions regarding Jennifer McCormack:
Jennifer McCormack died at Baptist Hospital in September 2014 shortly after a confinement at Forsyth County Jail. She reported to medical staff that she was in withdrawal from opioids, pregnant and suicidal at the time of intake. Janis McCormack, the decedent’s mother, indicated in an interview with Triad City Beat that she brought Jennifer’s prescribed Suboxone (an opioid medication) to the jail and turned it over to medical staff, but it is unclear whether the Suboxone was ever administered to the patient. Janis McCormack also indicated to Triad City Beat that she brought Jennifer’s prescribed Xanax to the jail, but that staff refused to accept it. Jail incident reports indicate that Jennifer McCormack experienced multiple episodes of falling and urinary incontinence during her 16-day confinement in Forsyth County Jail. Jennifer McCormack was discovered unresponsive in her cell on Sept. 13, 2014, and transported to Baptist Hospital. She remained in a coma and died five days later.
- Did Correct Care Solutions employees administer the prescribed Suboxone to Jennifer McCormack?
- Why didn’t Correct Care Solutions employees accept McCormack’s prescribed Xanax, which was furnished by her mother? Was McCormack provided Xanax that was in stock or procured by medical staff during the period of her confinement?
- Was McCormack’s death preventable?
- Why wasn’t McCormack transported to a hospital as early as Sept. 4, when jail staff discovered her trapped against the wall by her bed and discovered a large puddle of urine on the floor?
“Due to healthcare privacy regulation, CCS is unable to comment on any specific circumstances related to an individual patient. CCS employees are trained medical professionals whose top priority is providing the highest standard of care to all patients we serve. This includes opioid withdrawal and detoxification. We take the death of any patient very seriously and conduct an internal review of our team’s performance in the event of an incident such as this one to ensure that protocol was followed.”
- What is Correct Care Solutions’ policy on when a doctor should be on site at local detention facilities? If a doctor is not on site, what is the policy regarding authorization for subordinate staff to make decisions regarding inmates’ needs for various medications?
“CCS maintains relationships with outside medical providers who offer services which are not available within the facility’s medical unit. CCS employees have direct lines of communication with these outside providers and are trained to determine when treatment outside the facility is necessary. Medical doctors routinely engage with facility staff and are readily available in the event that their expertise is needed.”
- What medications does Correct Care Solutions keep in stock at local detention facilities? If the list of medications kept in stock does not include Xanax, why not?
“CCS is unable to disclose the specifics of its medical inventory, but in general terms, that inventory reflects the common needs of a facility’s patient population. All pre-existing conditions are to be identified through the intake process and if a patient has a pre-prescribed medication, that is administered with the oversight of the facility’s physician partner.”
- What policies does CCS have for obtaining medications urgently needed by inmates that are not in stock? Does CCS have a preferred provider to obtain medications at reduced cost?
“CCS has access to medication through it partnership with community medical providers and the facility’s medical director.”
- Does Correct Care Solutions minimize transferring patients offsite for emergency medical care to keep costs down? Does Correct Care Solutions’ efforts to keep costs down put patients health at risk?
“CCS makes patient transfer decisions based strictly on a patient’s state of health and immediate need.”
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