Another victim adds to Georgia prison doctor’s grim legacy

Dr. Yvon Nazaire hasn't worked in the Georgia prison system for nearly two years, but the death toll of women in his care continues to rise.

 Kimery Finger

Credit: Lois Norder

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Credit: Lois Norder

The latest to become part of that grim legacy is Kimery Finger, a former inmate at Pulaski State Prison who died April 21 in Greensboro, N.C., after years of battling complications from diabetes.

Finger's story was first told last July by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Rhonda Cook, who described how the former inmate's right leg had to be amputated below the knee after a cut on her toe was allowed to fester at the prison. At that time, Finger's attorney, Jeff Helms of Homerville, had filed a notice of claim indicating that he planned to sue the state for negligence and medical malpractice.

Now the story has veered into more tragic territory, and Helms has filed a second notice, this time signaling the intention of Finger’s mother to file a suit for wrongful death.

That document, dated May 30, calls Finger’s death “a direct and proximate cause of chronic health problems that originated while she was an inmate at Pulaski State Prison and were proximately caused by the prison’s severe neglect in the treatment of her diabetic condition.”

The notice lists the Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia Correctional HealthCare, the unit of Augusta University that employs and supervises prison medical personnel, among the responsible parties. In addition to saying those parties will be sued for failing to monitor and render aid to Finger, the notice states that they will be cited for the negligent hiring, retention and credentialing of unqualified staff.

In an interview, Helms said a North Carolina pathologist hired by Finger’s family conducted an autopsy and determined that the 52-year-old ex-inmate died of a blocked coronary artery. The pathologist, a former county medical examiner, said diabetics are particularly susceptible to such blockages, especially after losing limbs, the attorney said.

“Once a diabetic becomes sedentary, that just makes the condition even worse,” Helms said. “They can’t exercise, can’t stay as healthy as they would be if they had all their limbs. That’s the legal position we’re pursuing and we feel good about it.”

An AJC investigation in 2015 detailed how nine women died agonizing deaths under questionable circumstances while in Nazaire's care at Pulaski and Emanuel Women's Facility. The doctor was suspended and ultimately fired as a result of the newspaper's reporting.

Since the stories appeared, a former Pulaski inmate, Sherri Cavender, has died as a result of colon cancer that wasn't diagnosed despite her persistent complaints of rectal bleeding.

Even though a report prepared by an administrator at Augusta University determined that Nazaire's care directly led to two of the deaths, the AJC found that the doctor can't be penalized by the Georgia Composite Medical Board because his license expired in January.

Helms’ notice of claim and other records related to Finger’s care paint an equally troubling picture of a woman struggling without success to make the seriousness of her condition understood.

Finger, who was serving a one-year sentence for credit card theft and financial identity fraud, was profoundly aware that minor wounds on her feet could lead to serious ulcers if not treated quickly and was forceful in complaining to prison medical personnel when she cut her big toe while trimming her toenails in May 2015.

Yet those complaints fell on deaf ears as Nazaire and his staff did little besides prescribe soft shoes and dressing changes for two months, at times even berating  Finger as the wound grew progressively worse.

At one point, while trying on shoes, Finger asked a nurse to look at her toe. The nurse told Finger she was there to help the inmate try on the shoes, not deal with her “trash,” according to a letter Finger wrote to the prison’s warden, Angela Grant, at the time.

It was only after Nazaire was suspended and Finger could be seen by another physician that she was given the OK to consult with a podiatrist. At that point, the wound was treated with dressing and medication, but it did not improve.

Finger was then admitted to Taylor Regional Hospital in Hawkinsville, where doctors determined that her infection had spread to the bone and recommended antibiotic therapy and outpatient surgery.

However, during the hospital stay, she was released from incarceration, and, as she told Cook last year, she was suddenly on a bus to Atlanta with $25 and prescriptions she could not fill.

In Atlanta, she went to in the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital, leading doctors to amputate her toe. But even that wasn’t sufficient. A month later, she returned to Grady complaining of fever, chills and nausea from a foul odor emanating from her foot, and that resulted in the decision to amputate further.

From there, a life that was difficult to begin with spun further out of control. Often homeless, Finger admitted that she sometimes returned to the Grady ER in the winter because it was a place where she could keep warm.

In recent months, Finger had reconnected with family in North Carolina, Helms said, but, even though her living conditions improved, her health did not.  She was ultimately hospitalized for respiratory issues and died days later, the attorney said.

“She had some hard times and could not have been more unlucky than to have been stuck in prison with Nazaire and his people,” Helms said.

Read more: The latest AJC investigation explains the loophole that allowed Nazaire to slip by the Georgia Composite Medical Board: