One Dead in Ohio

An Inmate's Death Casts Doubt on the Company Picked to Run the City's Prison Health System

Ernesto Marrero Jr., the executive director of Correctional Health Services, which will oversee compliance with the New York contract, says that won't happen here. "We've identified certain positions, mandated posts, that they will have to fill," he told the Voice. "If they don't have a certain number of doctors and nurses and licensed practical nurses, they will get fined $1000 a shift. They seem to me to have an understanding that they will need to maintain a level of quality to keep the contract."

But some of the doctors at Rikers apparently have big problems with PHS. Several of them, along with a number of support workers, have already left the island rather than work for the company, insiders say. Others are considering a speedy exit. "The staff is scared because PHS has a bad reputation," one Rikers administrator told the Voice. "They are cheap and they don't pay well and they have bad press. People are very upset and they're searching for jobs.

"If someone called me up today and offered me something similar, even for a little less money, of course I'd jump at it."

Rocky's road: Eickstadt's drunk-driving rap turned into a death sentence.
Rocky's road: Eickstadt's drunk-driving rap turned into a death sentence.

Marrero says they have nothing to worry about. He says he will direct his 15-person quality-assurance unit to monitor the company's performance "day to day."

"I have no problems with PHS's supervisory culture," he added.

Rocky Eickstadt's family, which will soon file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against PHS, would beg to differ. There was no supervisory culture, they say.

Within a few weeks of entering the Franklin County jail in July, Eickstadt began complaining of constant urination and bleeding gums, according to his mother, who visited him in jail every Thursday and Sunday. By August 23, his symptoms had worsened and his mother convinced him to submit a "call card" to PHS—which contained details of his condition and a request for medical help.

If the company had heeded the warning signs then, it's possible Eickstadt would be alive today. But the card was apparently never read by anyone—and Eickstadt was given no tests and no treatment. "The call card information alone strongly suggests a serious diabetic condition," the county's attorney, Jeffrey Glasgow, claimed in his letter to PHS and its subsidiary.

Despite the severity of his symptoms, it was 18 days before Eickstadt was seen by the company nurse. By September 10, he was so ill he reported for emergency sick call. (Why didn't he fill out a second call card in the interim? It's not clear, but his mother says he was deeply depressed about being locked up and about his recent breakup with the mother of his two-year-old daughter. "I'd tell him to take care of himself and he'd tell me, 'They just laugh at you in here, Mom.' ")

By the time the nurse saw him on September 10, Eickstadt's condition had deteriorated to the point where he could hardly walk, talk, or catch his breath. These symptoms were all consistent with diabetes, yet the examining nurse left Eickstadt in his cell, and, inexplicably, ordered him to be placed on a diet of clear liquids for three days. "Alert medical if problem continues," she wrote in the log. She did collect a urine sample, but no urinalysis was ever performed, according to medical records.

That afternoon, his mother made her regular Sunday visit and was shocked to find what looked like a corpse slumped in the visiting room across from her. "He just laid his head on the table," she says. "Then he said, 'Mom, I can't breathe, why don't you leave.' That was the last time I saw him alive."

The next morning, at 3:20 a.m., Eickstadt apparently passed out, and deputies brought him to a holding cell adjacent to the nurses' station. His blood pressure had plummeted to an alarming 98/48. Still, no one called a doctor. Eickstadt was left alone, untreated and delirious, for the next four hours.

By 7:20 a.m., he was barely alive. When a nurse peered through the cell window, she saw Eickstadt curled up on the floor with his feet propped up on the toilet; his blood pressure was scarcely measurable. She then scrawled this in the patient's "progress notes": "Asked inmate where he hurts. Inmate makes moaning sound."

Amazingly, the nurse waited another 15 minutes to call a PHS doctor, according to her notes. Later that morning, Eickstadt was transported to Columbus Community Hospital, where a test showed he had a blood sugar level of 1397—about 10 times normal.

Eickstadt died on September 13 of "acute diabetic ketoacidosis"—a failure of all major organs brought on by diabetic shock.

Ernesto Marrero believes that none of this can happen in New York—and that the Eickstadt case won't influence the city's ongoing negotiations with PHS. "I don't see how this will affect the selection process," he said. "Even in the best hospitals in New York City, you'll find cases like this."

Dorothy Eickstadt doesn't think her son was treated like a hospital patient; she thinks he was left to die like a sick dog. She had no idea PHS was coming to New York and was surprised to hear that anyone outside Ohio would be interested in her son's death. She said she had hoped her son would get out of jail, win his battle with the bottle, and get back to his job.

"The last thing I told him was, 'Keep pushing, Rocky, keep pushing,' " she said.

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