By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A Miami healthcare company looking to renew its multimillion dollar contract to care for Broward’s jail inmates did not disclose in bid documents that it paid an $800,000 wrongful-death settlement earlier this year in Tampa.
Broward Sheriff’s Office procurement rules require bidders to disclose any malpractice cases filed against them or their employees in the past five years, and any pending litigation, judgments and settlements in the past three years.
Armor Correctional Health Services, the top-ranked bidder, sent a June 4 proposal to the BSO that includes a 14-page list of 150 malpractice lawsuits. No mention is made of the horrific case of Allen Daniel Hicks, who spent nearly 36 hours in custody in a Tampa jail without treatment for a stroke that ultimately killed him.
In a cover letter to BSO, Armor Chief Executive Officer Bruce A. Teal sought to downplay that nevertheless lengthy track record. Among other things, he boasted that Armor had “zero (0) settlements in the last three (3) years.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and Hillsborough Circuit Court records show Armor and the HCSO jointly agreed in January to pay a total of $1 million to settle claims made by Hicks’ estate. The deal, which included a $200,000 payout by HSCO, was approved Feb. 26 by a probate judge and reported by The Tampa Bay Times on July 6.
Hicks suffered “severe brain damage” while waiting for treatment, according to a Jan. 7 memo by HSCO’s lawyer that summarized a sworn statement by the Tampa General Hospital neurosurgeon who treated Hicks.
A WINDOW MISSED
The “delay in medical care resulted in Mr. Hicks’ death, which could have been avoided had Mr. Hicks been sent to the emergency room within a 4½-hour window from the time his stroke began,” the memo says.
“Dr. (name deleted) was extremely critical of the medical care provided by Armor, as well as Armor and HSCO’s delay in transferring Mr. Hicks to the hospital,” says the memo.
A spokeswoman said Armor did not disclose the Hicks settlement because of the way BSO worded its bid question.
“The language specifically requests ‘settlements of court cases.’ The Hicks settlement was never a court case, which is why it was not included,” said Yeleny Suarez of the Miami public relations firm Everett Clay Associates.
Nevertheless, Armor’s apparently botched treatment of Hicks raises serious questions about the quality of medical care it provides to inmates, including those in Broward.
Armor’s list discloses that since 2008 it was sued 22 times in federal and state court by Broward jail inmates whose allegations included improper medical care, failure to provide medication and inappropriate conduct by medical providers.
The inmates who filed most of those cases had no lawyer and their cases were dismissed without trial, as is typical in cases in which plaintiffs represent themselves.
Jail systems across the country that hire outside companies to provide medical care to inmates routinely seek to assess the issue of quality of care by inquiring about their backgrounds.
BSO’s bid documents require prospective vendors to disclose their litigation history to satisfy a requirement that they “shall have a track record of providing quality, reliable inmate health care services.”
“Failure to answer all questions thoroughly and truthfully may result in your proposal being found non-responsive,” bidders are cautioned on BSO’s background questionnaire.
Armor’s role in what happened to Hicks is the kind of information the questionnaire was designed to ferret out.
The tragic and troubling episode is spelled out in police and court records.
Hicks, 51, was arrested about 11 a.m. on May 11, 2012 following a minor accident on I-275 in Hillsborough County in which no one was injured. A witness told police Hicks’s 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling at slow speed and weaving before he struck a guardrail.
Police called to the scene described Hicks as erratic, uncooperative and thought he might be on drugs. At one point, deputies pulled their guns on Hicks when he failed to comply with an order to show his left hand after one officer thought he saw Hicks reach into a seat pocket.
Hicks, a local volunteer baseball coach who lived with and cared for his aging mother, was handcuffed, taken to jail and charged with resisting an officer without violence.
Hicks arrived unable to walk or to speak properly. He was placed in a holding cell where he lay on the floor, unable to move his left side, for an extended period.
A SERIES OF ERRORS
A sheriff’s investigation details a series of errors by Armor personnel, beginning with the failure of a sally port nurse to properly assess Hicks’ medical condition.
“At no time did the nurse gather a history of Hicks’ present condition, nor did she properly examine signs and symptoms present with Hicks,” says the July 19, 2012 report of the investigation by HCSO Col. James D. Previtera.
Two other Armor nurses were also present in the holding cell. “But none of the LPNs attempted to examine Hicks closer, obtain vital signs or interview him,” the report says.
The next day, another nurse saw Hicks and expressed concern that he showed stroke symptoms. Hicks was soon transferred to Tampa General where he was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke.
“The medical bills associated with Mr. Hicks’ medical care exceed $1 million,” police records say.
The sheriff’s report accuses Armor of failing “to properly record and secure” the medical notes of the nurse who first identified Hicks’s stroke symptoms. It states that what happened to the notes is unknown.
Still, the report says Armor Health Services Administrator Lewis Hays “offered misleading information as to the existence of the notes” to sheriff’s investigators.
“In addition, Hays and Assistant Health Services Administrator Andy Sluka engaged in conduct that appeared to be intended to intimidate and coerce (the nurse) about her assertions with regard to the assessment and the medical notes,” the report says.
The sheriff’s office later revoked the security clearances of Hays and Sluka, the report says.
Col. Previtera, of the HCSO’s Department of Detention Services, said he contacted Armor CEO Bruce Teal personally “and expressed my extreme dismay with the manner in which his staff assessed and treated Mr. Hicks. The matter is the subject of continued internal review by Armor and corrective action is expected.”
Hicks remained in a coma and under constant medical care at Tampa General until his death on Aug. 7, 2012.
His mother died while Hicks was hospitalized.