Probe of Georgia prison doctor widens

University reviewing health care for inmates across the state

Georgia Regents University has expanded its investigation of prison doctor Yvon Nazaire to include the university’s management of correctional health care in the state as a whole, a school official told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Christen Carter, associate vice president for news and communications at the Augusta university, said the investigation is still focusing on Nazaire, who was placed on administrative leave last month after stories in the AJC linked him to a series of questionable inmate deaths. But the probe is also looking at the procedures and practices of Georgia Correctional Health Care, the branch of the university that employs Nazaire and other prison medical personnel, she said.

“We’re continuously looking at ourselves and trying to get better,” Carter said. “And so we want to take a holistic view and not just look at something that’s a symptom of a problem. We want to fix the problem.”

The investigation is being led by Dr. William Kanto, a university administrator who formerly was the chief medical officer for its health system, Carter said. He is currently gathering information, and no conclusions have been reached, she said.

“He’s really coordinating things at this point,” Carter said. “In terms of any sort of judgment or analysis, that’s still to be determined.”

Although the Georgia prison system is managed by the Department of Corrections, Georgia Correctional Health Care provides medical services for the department’s publicly-run facilities under a contract that began in 1997 and has been renewed annually since. The Department of Corrections pays Georgia Correctional Health Care about $170 million a year to staff and operate the medical units.

Nazaire, one of 50 physicians employed by Georgia Correctional Health Care, was removed from his position as medical director at Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville on July 21. That was two days after the AJC revealed how seven women died agonizing deaths without receiving treatment that could have saved or prolonged their lives while in his care at the facility, the state's second-largest prison for women.

Previously, the newspaper detailed how two inmates died at Emanuel Women's Facility in Swainsboro after their symptoms went untreated for weeks during a period when Nazaire had oversight for that facility's medical unit along with his responsibilities at Pulaski.

Since the stories appeared, the AJC has received dozens of letters and emails from Pulaski inmates and their families describing, in some cases graphically, Nazaire’s failure to adequately treat illnesses or injuries.

In an interview with the AJC in June, Nazaire denied that his treatment of inmates has been insufficient.

“I’m a Christian,” he said then. “The same thing I would do for my wife, my family, I would do for my brothers and sisters in prison.”

The AJC also has reported that the resume Nazaire submitted when he was hired by Georgia Correctional Health Care in 2006 stated that he was working in the emergency rooms of three New York hospitals when in fact he was unemployed. When interviewed by the AJC, Nazaire acknowledged that he was unemployed when he submitted the resume. He said he cited the three hospitals as current employers because he hadn't been fired from them.

Providing false information on a state job application in Georgia can be prosecuted as a felony carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

In a July 21 letter to Nazaire, Dr. Billy Nichols, the medical director for Georgia Correctional Health Care, informed the physician that he would be placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation focusing on “the care provided to certain patients at Pulaski State Prison” as well as his employment application.

The leave would last 21 days or “until the completion of the investigation,” Nichols wrote.

The decision to put Nazaire on paid leave means he is still receiving his annual salary of $174,300.

A day after writing to Nazaire, Nichols sent an email to Georgia Correctional Health Care employees addressing the matter. It said the action against Nazaire was taken to protect patients, the organization and the doctor himself and “in no way” should be considered an admission of wrongdoing.

Nichols also reminded employees that they are prohibited from speaking to the press and that all inquiries from reporters must be referred to the university’s media relations department.

“As you might imagine, we are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny,” he concluded. “Therefore it is of paramount importance that our non-caregiving actions remain above reproach.”

Nazaire was licensed to practice medicine without restriction in Georgia and then hired by Georgia Correctional Health Care even though he was in the midst of a three-year probation imposed by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct. The probation, which required that Nazaire's practice be closely monitored, was based on a finding that he was grossly negligent in his treatment of five emergency room patients, one of whom died.

Dr. Edward Bailey, who was the medical director at Georgia Correctional Health Care when Nazaire was hired and has since retired, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the AJC.