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.