A Quiet Little Death at Bellevue

Inmate Patrick Miller didn't beat the system. It beat him.

Where was the jail ward's nursing staff during all this? Under a 1991 federal-court decree, nursing staffers—not correction officers—are supposed to handle or restrain inmates who become violent.

That case, also filed by the Prisoners Rights Project, stemmed from prior brutality by correction officers at Bellevue. According to what's known so far, no nurses were involved in restraining Miller. It's possible, sources say, that the guards warned off the nurses because one of the guards had been struck.

Insiders say that Miller's death brings to light an already existing turf war between the hospital staff and the correction officers. The two groups operate under separate supervision and often clash over policies and procedures.

"No one really knows who's in charge," says an insider at the hospital. "It's like they're in two separate worlds."

In the wake of Miller's death, the jail guards are now required to notify the nurses whenever they remove someone from the ward. And a nurse must accompany the inmate to the holding cell and monitor him.

Such policies can help, but sources tell the Voice that although some of the correction officers work well with the staff and inmates, others will verbally abuse the inmates and are difficult to work with.

The guards get at most only a few hours of training before beginning to work in Bellevue's jail wards—and none of that training comes from the hospital's staff.

Officials say they've been trying to improve communications between the guards and the nursing staff: The two groups now hold a joint briefing during shift changes. And in what seems to be an unofficial change, the guards evidently have been ordered not to handle the patients at all, but rather to leave the job to the nursing staffers.

Some insiders say there just aren't enough jail guards to safely monitor the inmates. And they question why the officers involved in the Miller incident weren't removed from the floor pending an investigation.

If the details of Patrick Miller's death are still incomplete, his mom is at a complete loss to understand exactly what happened on Bellevue's 19 North ward.

"I just feel like everyone knows the Commandments," Billie Ann Miller says. "If he was there to get help, I feel there should have been a different tactic that they could have used for him."

Having lost touch with her troubled son, then regaining contact, and then losing him altogether still obviously pains her a year after his death.

"He told me he was living in Harlem and getting some help at a hospital," she says. "I told him I would come up and see him sometime. I never did get a chance."

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