United States

Spokane county approves funding to boost medical staff at jail after $27M verdict

(The Center Square) – Spokane County is amending the contract with NaphCare, the private company that provides medical services to the jail, so more employees can be hired.

The unanimous decision by the county commissioners followed a federal jury verdict several months ago that found NaphCare at fault in a $27 million wrongful death suit.

The county will provide an additional $354,000 a year to the company, increasing its annual contract to $7.8 million.

Naphcare, which now operates through a new subsidiary company called Everhealth, told the county it plans to hire registered nurses, dentists, dental assistants, a medical director and psychiatric nurses.

Services have been provided by Naphcase, which operates in dozens of facilities across the nation, to local inmates since 2017.

Last summer, a federal jury in Spokane awarded $27 million in damages to the family of Cindy Lou Hill, an inmate under NaphCare’s care who died of a ruptured intestine. The company will pay $26.5 million of that verdict and the county will owe $275,000. The case is under appeal.

In that suit, a federal judge found the county liable for the death of the 55-year-old Hill in August 2018. The county allowed more than six hours of surveillance video, which was key evidence, to be overwritten through a process that automatically happens after 60 days.

The judge determined that county officials allowed the video to be erased “with intent to avoid its litigation obligations.”

Hill, who was in jail on a drug possession charge, died of acute bacterial peritonitis due to ruptured liver adhesions with a hole in the small intestine, according to information provided by the medical examiner’s office.

Mike Sparber, the county’s senior director of law and justice, told the commissioners this month that he believes it is good NaphCare wants to hire more staff. He also said the county had little choice but to approve the contract amendment in the current situation.

He explained that NaphCare could opt out of its contract at any time with a 90-day notice and it would be difficult to find another medical provider within that timeline.

Sparber, who oversaw operations of the county jail before he became the senior director of law and justice, said he believes NaphCare has done a good job.

“If these changes will enhance what they’re doing right now,” he said, “I think that works better for all of us.”

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