Inmate deaths still plague Fulton County Jail - CBS46 News

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Inmate deaths still plague Fulton County Jail

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FULTON COUNTY, GA (CBS46) -

"Ain't a day go by he ain't on my mind."

Billy Fields is left with only pictures of his son, Bobby Mitchell Fields.

"No matter what they done, we still love em," Fields says of his son.

The 31-year-old was found hanging in his jail cell, locked up on drug charges. He had only been in the Fulton County jail a few days.

Addicted to heroin, his father questions whether or not he properly supervised and medically monitored.

"They are not being taken care of as they should, that's for sure," says Fields.

Late in 2017, as inmates kept dying at the Fulton County Jail, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation opened investigations and the county fired its medical provider.

Families of those inside the jail's walls were assured a new contractor in the new year would lead to better care and oversight.

It's something county leaders promised.

"The hope is what happened in the past will not happen in the future," said Robb Pitts, chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissions.

And something advocates called for.

"When the system becomes overwhelmed, that's when people start to get hurt, people start to die," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center For Human Rights.

But the new year came and inmates kept dying. There were two more suicides this new year, according to the new contractor. Of the five deaths probed late in 2017, suicide was a trend too.

Critics blamed a lack of medical supervision for drug-addicted inmates going through withdrawal, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. But with a new contractor and continued deaths, it's leading questions back to basic supervision by jail administrators.     

And it brings us back to Bobby Fields.

We obtained internal incident reports from the night his body was found, limp but alive. Jail records detail a chaotic, and what some might call an unsupervised scene.

Fields was found in his cell with the cell door open. He was found not by a corrections officer, but by a fellow inmate, roaming the hall on what they call "free time."

It took a group of inmates frantically motioning for help before the two guards on their floor responded. And how long Field had been hanging unnoticed remains unanswered.

Fields would later die at the hospital.

"Something needs to be done about it," his father says.

His family says their search for answers has been met with resistance. And as we noted, there are other families, sadly a growing number still wondering what's going on behind prison walls.

The GBI tells us their investigation is still ongoing. And they say no other in-custody deaths this year warrant their investigation.

Jail and county officials refused our requests for an interview, citing pending litigation.

The current contractor, NaphCare, released a written statement:

NaphCare assumed control of patient care at the Fulton County Jail on January 1, 2018.  NaphCare follows a proactive care model where we identify our patients' healthcare and mental health needs immediately when they are booked into the jail and act quickly to stabilize our patients and meet their needs.  NaphCare is constantly working hard to improve patient health care in Fulton County and for all of the more than 225,000 patients that we care for each year in local jails across the Country.

In addition to employing a strong team of around-the-clock medical and mental health staff on-site, we also employ around-the-clock clinical staff in our corporate office.  NaphCare's cutting-edge Electronic Health Record (EHR) enables our on-site clinical staff to consult with corporate staff in real time regarding patient care. No other correctional healthcare company provides a comparable level of around the clock corporate clinical support and innovative software solutions.

Since we began providing services for Fulton County, we have implemented significant improvements on behalf of Fulton County:

NaphCare installed its cutting-edge, corrections specific EHR software system (TechCare®) on day one of the contract.

NaphCare added highly trained clinical staff to increase patient care and training at the Fulton County Jail facilities.

NaphCare used its operational experience to revise the assignments and responsibilities of staff to better use our limited resource to improve patient care.  In particular, we added staff time to improve our ability to quickly assess patients at booking and intervene to meet our patients' medical and mental health needs upfront.

We at NaphCare are saddened that, despite our vigilant efforts, we have lost three patients since we assumed control of healthcare at the Fulton County Jail, two of which were by suicide. Preventing suicides is one of the biggest challenges we face in correctional medicine, and we focus our efforts every day on identifying, monitoring, and caring for patients who are at risk of taking their own lives.  Unfortunately, even with top notch health care personnel, cutting-edge health care systems and technology, and vigilant prevention efforts, not every death is preventable.  

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