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Suit: MDC’s negligence caused death of baby

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Shawna Tanner was in jail for only 16 days.

But 12 days into her stay at the Metropolitan Detention Center and 36 weeks into her pregnancy, she went into labor during the graveyard shift on a Sunday morning. Denied access to a hospital and to emergency medical care, Tanner continued to bleed and was in labor for more than 24 hours before paramedics were called in to deliver her baby boy, a recently filed lawsuit alleges. The boy, Jay Hinton Jr., was dead.

Nearly three years after his death, his mother is suing the jail’s then-health care provider, Wellpath, which was known as Correct Care Solutions at the time.

“This is such a horrible tragedy that this little baby died for absolutely no reason. It was completely preventable,” said Nicole Moss, one of the attorneys representing Tanner.

The lawsuit alleges that the medical unit was out of compliance with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care’s standards on staffing, on-site women’s health care and access to prenatal care. Tanner says that the defendants, which include Wellpath and seven of its employees, were negligent and that the negligence resulted in her son’s death. She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The 42-page lawsuit details Tanner’s experience and a litany of problems with CCS. A spokeswoman for Wellpath said the company does not comment on pending lawsuits. An MDC spokeswoman also declined to comment.

According to the suit:

Tanner was sent to jail Oct. 4, 2016, for violating her probation by testing positive for meth, which her lawyers say was the result of a single-use relapse.

Her water broke sometime on the morning of Oct. 16, 2016, but she was not allowed to leave her cell to alert corrections officers until around 7:30 a.m. after medication had been distributed to inmates. The day shift supervisor wrote in her log that Tanner “claims her water broke on grave (shift) and she has been having contractions all night.”

The doctor who should have been on site was at home, though “he reported working then for payroll purposes.” Instead, Tanner saw a nurse around 9 a.m., who verified that her baby had a heartbeat, but she did not perform a vaginal exam.

An inmate who has been pregnant before and has any evidence of water breaking, bleeding, pain or cramping should immediately be evaluated by a health care provider, the suit contends. If one is not available, emergency medical services should be activated. But the nurse simply deemed the visit “routine” and sent Tanner back to her pod.

She would see the nurse again about an hour later, at which time the same nurse called her a drug addict and again did not let her see a doctor or go to the hospital, the suit alleges. Instead, Tanner was placed in solitary confinement in direct contradiction to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care’s instruction that pregnant women not spend any time in solitary.

At 10:38 a.m., Tanner again asked to be taken to a hospital, and the nurse responded and checked the baby’s heartbeat again. The suit says she didn’t give Tanner any pain medication.

“Ms. Tanner had been bleeding and leaking fluid for over 12 hours at that point,” the suit says.

Around 9 p.m., Tanner asked the new nurse to perform a vaginal exam, but the nurse said that would be outside the scope of her practice. She gave Tanner Tylenol and sent her back to solitary for the night.

“She was wearing wet clothing because her amniotic fluid was leaking and she was bleeding and it was running down her legs. They didn’t even give her a change of clothing initially, they didn’t give her a blanket, they didn’t give her any sheets,” Moss told the Journal. “She was in this cold cell laboring alone, she didn’t have a cup to drink water. They even refused to give her new maxi pads when she soaked through all of the pads that she already had.”

Tanner was finally able to briefly see a doctor as he did rounds the next morning. By then, she was unable to sit normally, had been in pain all night and continued to experience cramping, the suit says. The doctor agreed to let Tanner return to her regular pod, but he did not perform an exam or any other tests.

Sometime after 9 a.m., Tanner noticed that her baby was no longer moving. A cellmate reported that Tanner was bleeding profusely and having contractions, and she was sent back to the medical unit, where nurses were unable to detect a fetal heartbeat.

“At this point, not a single medical staff member had looked at Ms. Tanner’s vagina,” the suit says.

The doctor did not “observe or interact” with Tanner, but he did authorize her emergency transport to a hospital. As they waited for the ambulance, a nurse “finally tried to look at Plaintiff Tanner’s vagina to see if there was any crowning present.”

Paramedics arrived around 11 a.m. and saw Tanner on a table in the exam room, with several other people “kind of just around her while she was, obviously, having contractions.”

“No one had even removed her pants,” the suit says.

The CCS doctor arrived in the exam room moments before the ambulance, and he stood toward the back and did not participate. When he was asked to take over, he “responded by throwing his hands up and (shaking) his head in a ‘no’ fashion.”

“The baby was born dead with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck,” the lawsuit says.

Tanner and the baby were taken to Lovelace Women’s Hospital, where one employee said it was apparent that the baby had not been dead for long. A medical examiner determined that the baby died in the latter part of delivery.

“Baby Jay died because his mother went into unmonitored labor at MDC and routine problems … were not addressed as they could have been in a hospital setting,” the lawsuit says.

Tanner was taken back to MDC and returned to solitary confinement for the night. She was released from jail days later.

A previous lawsuit dealing with the same incident was filed in federal court, but Moss said that “due to a legal technicality… the civil rights claims were dismissed.” That case, which names Bernalillo County as a defendant, is being appealed.

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