AJC INVESTIGATION: Fulton jail’s medical provider seeks security, citing dangerous conditions

NaphCare moved to end its contract with Fulton following assaults on its staff

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The company that provides health care for Fulton County inmates says the jail is so dangerous, it wants security guards to accompany its clinical personnel behind bars, records show.

Birmingham-based NaphCare warned in March that its staff had been assaulted, a patient had been stabbed and that Fulton’s lockup was the most dangerous of the more than 70 jails it services nationwide, according to the records. The company later told the Fulton Sheriff’s Office that conditions had worsened and that it would end its $27 million contract with the county on May 31, seven months early.

“In order to perform at a level that meets NaphCare’s high standards, it is critical that we operate in a clean and safe environment,” NaphCare CEO Bradford McLane said in a letter to Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat. “Unfortunately, in light of our ongoing concerns in those areas, NaphCare cannot in good conscience continue to serve the patient population in the Fulton County jail facilities.”

NaphCare has since agreed to stay through June 30 and said Tuesday it is discussing another extension while it hires additional security staff. The company and Labat are renegotiating the contract amid national media attention focused on the death of Lashawn Thompson, a homeless and mentally ill detainee whose body was found covered with insects in the jail’s psychiatric wing last year.

Thompson was among more than 60 Fulton inmates who died between 2009 and October 2022, the highest total for any jail in Georgia during that time, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation. In November, the Southern Center for Human Rights issued a report that said Fulton’s jail was “dangerously understaffed and overcrowded,” noting outbreaks of lice and scabies.

The Rice Street jail has capacity for 2,688 inmates but was holding 3,221 in April, according to Georgia Department of Community Affairs records. Of those, 2,944 were awaiting trial.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

On March 13, McLane sent Labat and other county officials a letter saying there had been 11 incidents this year in which NaphCare employees were “assaulted or placed at risk, with two such incidents being very serious.” On March 9, McLane added, his company cared for 18 patients for “medical needs related to inhaling dangerous contraband, nine of which needed to be sent to Grady Hospital.” NaphCare also treated a patient who had been stabbed the same day, McLane wrote.

“At this point Fulton County’s Rice Street Jail has become the most dangerous jail or prison facility where NaphCare is contracted to provide services in any location in the country,” wrote McLane, whose company also provides inmate medical and mental health care in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties and elsewhere.

Labat responded with a letter on April 1, highlighting the installation of surveillance cameras, “full body scanners” and X-ray machines in the Fulton jail. Those steps, he said, have thwarted numerous attempts to bring contraband behind bars and have resulted in the arrest of two NaphCare “employees/contractors.”

Ebonee Grant, 22, who worked as a contract medical assistant in the Fulton jail for about a month, was arrested in January after she allegedly attempted to smuggle in marijuana and tobacco, records show. She faces charges of possessing marijuana and providing it to a Fulton jail inmate.

Sade Robinson, 35, was arrested April 21 and charged with crossing guard lines with prohibited items. Her arrest report and court records, which also allege tobacco-related offenses, don’t identify the role she held in the jail.

In the same April 1 letter to NaphCare, the sheriff disputed some of what the company said.

“For instance, your letter indicates that 18 people received medical care due to inhaling dangerous contraband,” the sheriff wrote. “Records indicate, however, that the number of individuals actually receiving medical care related to that incident is significantly lower. I raise this not to trivialize the incident, but rather to highlight that some of the information conveyed to you and your corporate team is erroneous.”

The AJC has requested the records Labat referenced in his letter.

Thompson’s family has called for his Sept. 13 death to be investigated and for Fulton’s jail to be closed. The cause of death was undetermined, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report, which noted a severe insect infestation in the jail.

Thompson wound up in the jail after Georgia Tech police encountered him sleeping in a park outside a childcare center in Midtown in June 2022. Officers found a warrant from Dothan, Alabama, on a 2017 car theft charge. Georgia Tech police also charged Thompson with simple battery for allegedly spitting on one of them.

A privately funded autopsy cites “complications due to severe neglect.” Thompson lost 32 pounds during his three months in the jail and he was not given medication for his schizophrenia, according to the autopsy, funded by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s organization, Know Your Rights Camp. The autopsy also says Thompson was covered in lice that could have caused him to suffer from anemia.

NaphCare’s medical records for Thompson, according to the private autopsy, have a “significant gap in the documented health care provision between July 27, 2022, and September 8, 2022... The medication administration log showed that no medication was administered from August 11, 2022 — September 13, 2022.”

Meanwhile, NaphCare is facing a medical malpractice lawsuit from the family of a 26-year-old Dacula man who died from a bleeding intestinal ulcer in Gwinnett’s jail two years ago. Filed in Gwinnett State Court in April, the 12-page lawsuit accuses the company and some physicians and nurses of failing to provide adequate and timely care to Deion Strayhon. NaphCare has denied the allegations.

NaphCare did not respond to questions about Thompson’s death, the arrests of Grant and Robinson, the 11 alleged incidents in which the company’s employees were assaulted or placed at risk and the patient who was allegedly stabbed in Fulton. It sent a statement saying it is working with Fulton officials on “revised contract terms that will allow us to confidently continue providing health care within the Fulton County Jails.”

Records show NaphCare is seeking a $1.8 million increase in its contract with Fulton for the rest of this year. It has asked for pay raises for its employees plus security officials to escort them inside the jail. NaphCare’s annual contract could increase by $4.2 million next year, records show. Labat has agreed to most of what the company is seeking and has said the proposal would be brought to the Fulton Commission for consideration.

“NaphCare’s first priority is the safety and security of our staff and our patients, as well as cleanliness within the Fulton County Jails,” the company said. “We are committed to ensuring the safety of our staff and providing continuity of care for our patients within the jails.”

The company added that conditions have recently been improving in the Fulton jail, noting Labat’s efforts to decontaminate the jail and to track inmates’ health and whereabouts with high-tech wristbands.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Labat noted the jail’s problems long preceded his tenure, saying it “was overcrowded when it opened its doors in October 1989 and remains overcrowded.”

“As we continue to work toward replacing the Rice Street jail,” he said, “we look forward to partnering with our medical provider to ensure we are collectively able to meet the mission of providing a humane and safe environment for detainees and staff alike.”