The Inside Story on Inmate Medical Care

©1999 Last Updated: 04/07/00

Here in the last couple of weeks the local newsmedia has been reporting on the state of inmate medical care within the Department of Corrections. All the fuss seems to have started when the Department tried to get rid of Dr. Ahmed for giving information to the State Ombudsman's Office about the lack of medical care for inmates.

Who's been saying what

The Ombudsman issued a report on November 30th that criticized the Department of Corrections for poor or non-existent medical care for inmates. The report called for sweeping changes. The story even escalated into the national newspaper, USA Today. Even the Governor got into the act and called for a review of inmate medical care. The newspapers published the following articles:

Most of the articles talk about inmate Robert Zolper who died as a result of a heart attack in September 1998. Dr. Ahmed had complained that the crash cart and other medical equipment needed to treat Zolper was locked and unavailable when needed.

What they haven't told you

None of these articles tell you that Mr. Zolper was the third inmate to die of a heart attack because they did not receive proper medical care. In November 1996, inmate Michael Hall collapsed in the yard at the Medium Security Unit (MSU) located next to NSP. When Mr. Hall stopped breathing and started turning purple another inmate, who had training in CPR, started chest compressions and breathing for Hall. The first guard on the scene ordered the inmate to stop. Even when other guards arrived at the scene none of them resumed CPR on Hall. Instead, the guards brought a gurney and took Hall to the turnkey area some 400 yards away where the hospital is located. Still none of the officers performed CPR. Mr. Hall was dead within an hour of his collapse. Two of the officers involved have been promoted, presumably for other reasons, from Sergeant to Lieutenant. This is especially odd since one of these officers was involved in a prior heart attack death. In July of 1995, Frank Tlamka suffered a heart attack while standing just outside the gym at NSP. Again inmates who had training in CPR began breathing and chest compressions on Mr. Tlamka. When an officer arrived on the scene he ordered the inmates to stop, but did not begin providing CPR himself. Just as they would do to Mr. Hall a year later, the guards did not provide care for Mr. Tlamka until they brought a gurney and transported him to the turnkey area. Mr. Tlamka died at Lincoln General Hospital from the effects of suffering severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. Mr. Tlamka's death is the subject of a federal lawsuit in Lincoln. Tlamka v. Serrell et al., 4:97CV3212

Investigative Reporting - an oxymoron?

None of the newspapers or television reports talks about the Ombudsman's investigation and May 1997 report regarding these two deaths. The Ombudsman found that Department of Corrections staff failed to follow even their own policies and procedures in dealing with these medical emergencies. None of the newspapers and television reporters has asked Harold Clarke what actions he took in response to this first Ombudsman's report. This can't be blamed upon the medical staff not knowing what to do; they had plenty of warning the first two times it happened.

Governor's Review or Coverup?

The Governor's review ought to include the report about Mr. Hall's and Mr. Tlamka's deaths as well. It should also examine what, if anything, Mr. Clarke did to see that these things wouldn't happen again. Whatever he did, it didn't help Mr. Zolper. The review also ought to look at the medical budget and expenditures. The Journal Star Editorial mentions the 4.25% average increase in the medical budget over the last 6 years. They also point out that actual medical expenditures have gone down by about 8% since July, 1996. There wasn't any mention about the rumored 5% across the board internal budget cuts that the Department implemented. Hopefully, the Governor's review will tell us whose idea it was to cut the medical expenditures by 5% when the budget was up by 4.25%. Asking Harold Clarke ought to be the obvious place to start; but don't stop there, follow the money.

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