Even though the death of an Idaho inmate at a Texas correctional facility earlier this year was deemed to have been the result of “natural causes,” the incident still spurred an internal investigation, and the private company managing the facility could face penalties as a result of violating its contract with the Idaho Department of Correction.
Kim Taylor, 56, died in the early hours of Jan. 6. That was six days after Taylor, who was held in Eagle Pass Correctional Facility, began to complain of a sore throat and a fever as high as 101.3 degrees, according to a report compiled by Idaho Department of Correction officials. That report found a nurse at the facility — who was among medical staff hired and managed by The GEO Group, a private prison company with which Idaho contracts — mishandled Taylor’s medical care the night he died, and also that there was not enough medical staff in the facility.
Jeff Ray, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Correction, said Tuesday that prior to Taylor’s death, Idaho prison officials “had seen no significant problems at Eagle Pass that caused us to be concerned about the quality of health care provided to inmates at the facility.”
In the wake of Taylor’s death, the department’s health services director and one of its nurse managers “are conducting a comprehensive audit of the facility’s medical procedures,” according to Ray. Both are registered nurses, he wrote in an email to the Idaho Press.
Once that report is finalized, officials will examine it to see if The GEO Group deviated from its contract with the Idaho Department of Correction in its handling of Taylor’s death. If the state feels the company did, The GEO Group will either “cure the noncompliance” or “submit a corrective action plan stating how and when the noncompliance will be addressed,” according to an email from Ray.
Investigators from the department, in an investigation into Taylor’s death completed in January, already noted employees of The GEO Group had actually violated the contract, as well as state statutes.
In their report, investigators wrote “an autopsy was not completed as required by state statute and the IDOC/GEO contract. ... Warden (Waymon) Barry stated he now knows that he needs to immediately request an autopsy upon death of any inmate.”
Under the contract, if The GEO Group doesn’t correct errors, the Idaho Department of Correction has the right to reduce the amount of money it pays the company per inmate per day, demand liquidated damages, or terminate the contract altogether.
Serious incident reviews
That comprehensive audit is running parallel to the normal inspections department officials perform on the facility, which Ray confirmed take place at least every two weeks.
In addition to those visits, and the audit of medical services, though, the department also conducted what is known as a serious incident review, which it finished Jan. 28. The department conducts either a serious incident review or an internal incident report — which is similar but less formal — if there is an “escape/walkaway, serious crime, riot, hostage situation, discharge of a firearm (other than training), and serious injury or death of an inmate, staff member, or member of the public,” according to the department’s standard operating procedure.
From Feb. 28, 2018, through Thursday, the Idaho Department of Correction Division of Prisons conducted 48 serious incident reviews, according to Ray. The Division of Probation and Parole conducted seven.
Such investigations are conducted by a panel of three people who are not affiliated with the facility where the incident took place, according to the department’s procedure. Ideally, the investigation should be complete within 10 working days, although authorities can grant an extension if one is necessary.
Officials conducting a serious incident review can make recommendations in their report about disciplinary action against those involved or recommend recognition for outstanding service — for example, the panel members who reviewed Taylor’s death found “an inexperienced nurse should not be working by herself on night shift.”
Another goal of the review process, according to the department’s standard operating procedure, is “to determine if anything can be done to avoid future incidents.”
For example, in Taylor’s case, investigators wrote “medical response is where the problem lies.” They wrote the nurse who responded to Taylor’s medical crisis the night he died “does not have the experience, knowledge or critical thinking skills to work alone” and recommended unless she can be given “some immediate additional training and education, she should be removed from her position.”
Reviewers also noted the nurse did not know where the automated external defibrillator was, and although she asked the correctional officers where the device was, “she said the officers did not know where it was.”
The officers told reviewers she “never asked them to retrieve the AED,” according to the report.
Nevertheless, reviewers found “the correctional staff did an excellent job,” and noted they assisted the nurse through the crisis.
They also lauded Barry in their report.
“Warden Barry was very responsive to the crisis,” according to the serious incident review, and said he responded to the hospital where Taylor was taken at 2:44 a.m. while staff were still trying to revive him.
The report adds, “Should future incidents such as this occur, IDOC and GEO will work together to ensure that an autopsy is completed per contractual guidelines.”