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El Paso County jail’s medical provider failed to give inmate mental health care, lawsuit alleges

An inmate at the El Paso County jail nearly died in a suicide attempt early last year after medical personnel failed to give the man any mental health care despite numerous red flags about his state of mind — including a very similar prior suicide attempt inside the jail, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Maxwell Kirwan, now 30, jumped headfirst from a second-floor balcony inside the jail on Feb. 10, 2021. Deputies found him in a pool of blood; he suffered a broken neck, skull fracture and significant brain injuries, according to the lawsuit against the jail’s medical provider, Wellpath, and one nurse in particular.

The lawsuit, filed in El Paso County District Court, is one of many the company and its affiliates have faced in recent years amid widespread allegations of poor medical care, including some claims that have led to multimillion-dollar payouts.

When Kirwan was booked into the jail on Feb. 5, 2021, the nurse named as a defendant, Nicole Tuck, removed a warning on his file about his high risk of suicide — a move that allowed Kirwan to be placed in the general population and meant he was not prioritized for urgent mental health treatment, the lawsuit alleges.

“In our view that decision to remove that suicide risk alert is inexplicable,” said Kirwan’s attorney, Dan Weiss. “It defies reason. And we don’t know why it happened.”

While incarcerated at the jail in 2014, Kirwan, who suffers from hallucinations and severe mental illness, threw himself down a set of stairs in an attempt to die by suicide. Tuck was aware of that attempt but still removed the warning on Kirwan’s file about his risk of suicide, according to the complaint. Kirwan jumped from the balcony five days later, two days after sincerely telling one deputy that he was “Jesus reborn,” and had an “ancient spirit” inside him, according to the lawsuit.

“These jails really have to take care of folks with mental illness,” Weiss said. “They have to do something other than just cut people off completely from whatever kind of help they may have been getting on the outside.”

Wellpath is a private company that contracts with the El Paso County jail to provide medical services in the facility. It was created in a merger with jail medical contractor Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Medical Group Companies, according to the lawsuit.

Wellpath spokeswoman Teresa Koeberlein declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Tuck could not be reached.

Correct Care Solutions provided medical services in the El Paso County jail for nearly two decades, until 2017, when El Paso County officials switched to a new provider amid a slew of lawsuits against Correct Care Solutions. Armor Correctional Health Services provided medical services from 2017 to 2020, then the jail hired Wellpath.

The company and its affiliates have been the target of numerous past lawsuits and allegations of inadequate care across Colorado.

A former inmate in Jefferson County won an $11 million trial verdict in 2013 after he alleged Correctional Healthcare Companies, a predecessor to Wellpath, failed to provide proper medical care after he suffered a stroke. The family of a man who died in the Fremont County jail in 2014 jail won a $4.25 million settlement against CHC after they alleged the man was denied his medications and died from withdrawal.

Stephen Garrett, a former inmate in the Fremont County jail, alleged in a 2018 federal lawsuit that he was constantly restrained for a month without mental health treatment after he twice attempted suicide while incarcerated at the jail. That lawsuit is ongoing, although the claims against Wellpath were dismissed in 2019 when a judge found Garrett’s allegations were too vague to show corporate liability.

Last year, a man who was incarcerated in the El Paso County jail filed a lawsuit against Wellpath and Armor Correctional Health Services. Daniel Plutt claimed medical personnel failed to properly treat a life-threatening infection at the site of his leg amputation. A judge dismissed some of his claims in September; the overall lawsuit is ongoing.

The El Paso County jail has seen multiple inmate deaths in 2022, including 58-year-old Felica Hudson, who was found dead in her cell on Friday, according to the sheriff’s office. On Saturday, protesters gathered at the jail to decry the continued deaths.

Sgt. Jason Garrett said Tuesday that the jail has seen one inmate die by suicide in 2022. He could not immediately provide the total number of inmate deaths in the jail during 2022.

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