Poconos woman claims a county prison denied her medical care in civil rights lawsuit

Poconos woman claims a county prison denied her medical care in civil rights lawsuit

Updated: 1 month, 5 days, 26 minutes, 8 seconds ago

Poconos woman claims a county prison denied her medical care in civil rights lawsuit

A ruined Thanksgiving dinner turned into the week of waking nightmares for Samantha Weil of Tafton. Nearly a year later, she's filed a lawsuit against Wayne County, and corrections nurses Caroline Shifler and Anna Steelman for alleged negligence incurred while Weil was incarcerated in the Wayne County Correctional Facility.

On Nov. 25, 2021, Weil got into a car accident while picking up some last-minute dinner fixings to go with the Thanksgiving turkey she had baking in the oven.

While on scene, police ran a background check. They found Weil had two outstanding warrants for her arrest, one in Philadelphia County and the other in Carbon County. With cause to arrest her, police took her into custody and remanded her to the Wayne County Correctional Facility.

What happened next is the subject of a civil rights lawsuit Weil filed on Oct. 11, 2022, in which she claims she was denied medications critical to her mental and physical health for a period of seven days. During that time, Weil's lawsuit alleges her health deteriorated and, when she was in a critical state, was not taken to a hospital for emergency treatment.

According to Weil's complaint, she suffers from a heart disease known as long QT syndrome, epilepsy, depression and opioid use disorder (OUD). At the time of her Thanksgiving arrest, she was on various medications for these conditions, including methadone as part of a Medication Assisted Therapy program for her OUD, and had an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) to monitor and correct irregularities in her heartbeat.

The lawsuit claims arresting officers were made aware of her medical needs, but when she was admitted to the prison, none of her medications were supplied. The suit further alleges denial of these medications led Weil to experience withdrawal symptoms, which in turn led to her heart beating irregularly. This arrhythmia in turn sparked her ICD to send out corrective shocks five times within four hours. The complaint states an ICD issuing more than three shocks within 24 hours is known as an "electric storm," is a medical emergency, and requires immediate medical treatment.

Weil's allegations state, without this medical support, she spent seven days writhing in agony in her cell until she was transferred to Philadelphia County Prison, where her medical needs were seen to.

"What we're hoping happens is not only compensation for Ms. Weil, but this will be an indication to make sure this never happens again," said Weil's attorney, Matthew Clemente, when asked about the case.

When asked for comment, Wayne County Solicitor Wendell Kay stated, "Our policy is not to comment on active litigation."

Of interest:Pike prison rep says their food service department is understaffed. Can the county help?

How could this happen?

Weil's complaint alleges the correctional facility has a lack of staff and calls into question how well trained the staff which are present are.

While the degree of training is a subjective matter to be determined by a third party— likely the court should this case go to trial— staffing concerns at the correctional facility have been discussed on several occasions during meetings of the Board of Commissioners.

In 2021, Wayne and Pike Counties considered merging their correctional facilities, citing staffing shortages as one reason for the consideration. The six-week feasibility study for this project ended on November 4, 2021, three weeks to the day before Weil's arrest.

Read about the proposed merger here:Wayne and Pike prison merger open study period is wrapping up

The feasibility study notes medical professionals were at Wayne County Correctional facility only 15 hours per day, five days per week. Pike County's prison had medical professionals on staff 24/7, according to the study, something the study pointed to as a boon to Wayne County inmates should the merger go through.

It also pointed to a high turnover in corrections officers, many who leave to seek employment at the nearby state and federal prisons in Waymart Borough and Canaan Township.

The Commissioners ultimately decided not to merge correctional facilities in large part due to stakeholders such as local judges, prosecutors and officer worker groups expressing concern that moving the prison outside of Wayne County would cause more problems than it fixes.

Read about the merger's end here:Wayne County announces end to prison study period, decides not to pursue merger at this time

In-depth look at why it didn't happen:Prison merger report findings to be released

Without the merger, where does that leave correctional facility staffing?

Looking at the last 12 months of agendas and meeting minutes, the County has hired 16 corrections officers for the prison, but lost 17 due to resignation, retirement and termination.

In terms of nursing staff, the only recorded changes in the last year were the promotion of one nurse from part-time to full-time employment, only to have that same nurse request to be returned to part-time employment a few months later.

As of October 18, 2021, Wayne County is advertising a full-time nurse and part-time corrections officer positions among others at the prison on their website.

The study noted medical staff were only on site 15 hours per day, five days per week prior to November 4, 2021. It is unclear how those hours are affected by holidays such as Thanksgiving.

According to the Wayne County Inmate Handbook, last updated in 2014, newly admitted inmates are kept in isolation until they can be examined by medical staff. The handbook says this is to be sure they won't spread disease to the general population.

The handbook also notes inmates must submit a request one day in advance to see medical staff, and it is the inmate's responsibility to alert corrections officers of immediate medical needs.

Weil's complaint alleges her arresting officer was made aware of her medical needs and that he relayed the information to prison staff. It further claims despite this knowledge, she was still denied her medications.

According to the inmate policy, medications are distributed to inmates roughly three times each day, "strictly in accordance to the directions of the doctor."

Weil's accusations further allege it wasn't until four days after her admittance, Nov. 29, when Shifler attempted to gain Weil's medical records. Steelman allegedly didn't seek Weil's medical records until Nov. 30, after Weil's electric storm of ICD pulses.

The accuracy of Weil's statements and the degree to which the County may be liable is yet to be determined in court. The case was filed in the United States Court Middle District.