Mar 26, 2024 - News

Watchdog group wants more oversight on hospital care for inmates

Light gray bars from a sliding door inside a city jail in Denver, with a background in a beige color.

A sliding door inside the Denver County Jail in January. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A civilian watchdog group says Denver Health must be more transparent in its treatment and care of people in city jails.

Why it matters: The hospital's lack of openness and oversight for inmate care has been a major concern for the past two years, Citizen Oversight Board chair Julia Richman tells us.

  • Denver executive public safety director Armando Saldate shared similar concerns during a board meeting last November.

Driving the news: The Citizen Oversight Board, which provides supervision for Denver's independent monitor, raised these concerns in its recently published annual report.

  • Over the past two years, eight inmates have died while in custody, including three related to medical emergencies, according to documents from the independent monitor's office.

State of play: Denver Health is responsible for providing medical care to the roughly 1,700 inmates at two city jails, which sheriff's deputies supervise.

What they're saying: Richman says the hospital could improve transparency by creating a dashboard, for example, where it releases details about complaints from inmates and how it addresses them.

The other side: "The Citizen's Oversight Board report contains numerous conclusions which are not based in fact," Denver Health spokesperson April Valdez Villa said in a statement to Axios, though she didn't specify conclusions.

  • Valdez Villa said the hospital provides treatment "with care and compassion in a challenging environment."

Zoom in: The board's report mentions Leroy "Nicky" Taylor's death in custody in February 2022 as a troubling example.

  • Taylor's family filed a civil lawsuit last year alleging the hospital did not provide him adequate care and ignored his serious symptoms, including chest pain, vomiting and dehydration. The lawsuit remains pending.
  • A supervising deputy who spoke with Taylor the day he died said he told her "that the medical staff hadn't done anything for him," per an internal report completed by Denver's public safety department.
  • Attorney Ciara Anderson, who's representing Taylor's estate, called his death "preventable." The city's medical examiner's office attributed it to natural causes.

The internal report concluded sheriffs did not violate any policies leading up to Taylor's death.

What we're watching: The board's advocacy last year led to the creation of a new administrator role with the sheriff's department to evaluate the hospital's contractual obligations.

  • While the position was filled in October, the board's report says "it remains to be seen" whether they will adopt recommendations.
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