After jail cell birth, Nashville inmate sues claiming poor care

NASHVILLE — An inmate who gave birth inside a cell at the Tennessee Prison for Women has filed suit, alleging nurses and a doctor “alternately ignored and only occasionally checked on” the pregnant woman during four hours of labor.

The inmate gave birth inside a cell in the prison’s medical wing without a qualified OB-GYN, in non-sterile conditions and without pain medication, according to the lawsuit filed against Centurion, a private company that contracts with the state to provide prisoner health care. The lawsuit also names Dr. Donald Bruce, a doctor employed by the company.

The newborn was wrapped in a “dirty towel or cloth and his umbilical cord was cut with a non-sterile object,” the lawsuit said. The infant boy eventually spent five days in the intensive care unit of Nashville General Hospital at Meharry with a severe infection after his birth on July 17, 2015. The lawsuit accuses Centurion nurses of telling the inmate she was “faking it” during her labor. The woman was nine months pregnant at the time and prison officials were aware she was near her due date, the lawsuit said.

“It’s shocking,” said attorney Michael Smith, who is representing inmate Amanda Lemka. “It boils down to an indifference and lack of care for patients there. Instead of treating her like a human being, they instead acted like we live in a Third World country.”

Lemka remains in prison over a parole violation for a nonviolent crime, said Smith, who declined to specify her crime or her sentence. A spokesman for the prison did not respond to a request for information about the prisoner by the newspaper's deadline. The prison is not named in the lawsuit.

Neither lawyers for Bruce or Centurion responded to a request for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in September in Davidson County Circuit Court, comes after scrutiny of the medical services provided at the Nashville prison — and a series of controversies at the Tennessee Department of Correction.

In October, Centurion’s health services administrator and the regional health administrator were removed from their positions at the women's prison after an audit revealed that medications were not being given out in a timely manner.

In addition, the top three wardens at the facility were demoted or retired over “concerns” about the effectiveness of their leadership, including their failure to manage the medical contractors.

Additionally, two inmates filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status against the state and Centurion earlier this year alleging inadequate treatment of inmates with hepatitis C. The lawsuit follows a Tennessean investigation into the treatment of hepatitis C in prison, which revealed thousands of inmates have the potentially life-threatening liver disease but only a rare few receive the costly but effective treatment. The department argued that regularly testing an inmate’s blood amounts to treatment, but experts say that will do nothing to actually cure inmates of the disease.

The Department of Correction is in the process of seeking bids for the prison health services contract that is currently with Centurion, a contract likely valued at more than $200 million. It’s unclear if Centurion will submit a bid to keep the contract, or how an additional lawsuit could affect the company’s chances of again earning the contract.

The lawsuit alleges that after the birth, nurses refused to allow the mother to hold or have contact with the newborn infant, instead passing the baby around to other staff in the cell. Lemka was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after the events surrounding the baby's birth, according to the lawsuit.

The 1-year-old baby lives with his father and is in good health, Smith said.

Contributing: Dave Boucher contributed to this report. Follow Anita Wadhwani on Twitter: @AnitaWadhwani.


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