A $16 million verdict against Armor Correctional Health Services is just one of many malpractice suits filed against the provider in its nearly 20 years of operating.
Malpractice allegations and lawsuits are unfortunately common in prisons and jails nationwide.
A Santa Rosa County, FL, jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case against Correctional Health Services. The suit was brought by the family of Misty Williamson, who was incarcerated at the Santa Rosa County Jail when she contracted pneumonia and died in 2016.
Armor Correctional Health Services was contracted to perform medical services at the Santa Rosa County Jail between 2012 and 2018. The case against the company alleged that staff neglected to provide proper medical care to Williamson, including failing to transfer her to a local emergency room in a timely manner. Williamson’s pneumonia turned into sepsis; she was 44 years old when she died of septic shock.
This verdict is one of many against Armor Correctional Health Services. Since its founding in 2004, the company has been sued in federal courts nearly 600 times. Major allegations against Armor have included medical malpractice, wrongful deaths, and employment law violations. These issues aren’t isolated: they’ve been present in prisons, and jails Armor has worked in around the country.
For instance, Armor was charged after the 2018 death of an incarcerated individual in Milwaukee, WI, and subsequently found guilty of neglect and falsifying medical records. Armor’s contracts with prisons and jails have been dropped in multiple Texas and Florida counties due to inadequate care provided by the company’s employees or a lack of accountability. Similarly, the Virginia Department of Corrections dropped its contract with Armor, and New York attorney general sued the company, leading to a settlement that bans the company from contracting for prison healthcare services in New York for three years.
Malpractice and prisons
Medical providers working in prisons and jails can face unique challenges. These facilities are often understaffed and underfunded. Additionally, incarcerated members can have complex medical and personal histories, sometimes requiring changes to standard treatment approaches. For example, Warren Ferguson, MD, who serves as Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has published and taught extensively in the area of prison health services, says that incarcerated individuals often have negative views of their health and of other people in general, something that can be challenging for medical providers to work with.
“I think the most important thing that physicians and other providers need to consider is that people’s lives have led to a tremendous amount of stigma,” says Dr. Ferguson. “Often, these are people who have poor self-esteem, who view their own health as quite poor, and who have a deep mistrust of other people given what they’ve been up against.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also estimates that around 65% of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder. The U.S. Department of Justice’s estimate is similar, finding that about 63% of people in jail met drug abuse or dependence criteria. Certain chronic conditions are also more common among incarcerated individuals, including hepatitis, HIV, depression, most STDs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory conditions, type 2 diabetes, and liver health conditions.
Socioeconomics can change the baseline for some practices and standards in prisons and jails and should be considered when physicians provide care. Vital patient safety practices and care standards, such as obtaining informed consent and ensuring patient privacy, can look different in these settings once elements such as staff and patient safety and patient literacy have been considered. Physicians are also practicing medicine according to the rules of a prison and within the constraints placed on any individual.
Of course, these changes must never compromise incarcerated patients' rights, dignity, or safety. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for standards to be changed and lowered in prison settings. This leads to poor patient care and a failure to uphold patient rights properly. As the case of Armor Correctional Health Services reveals, this can often result in medical malpractice.