Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Colo. County, Jail Provider to Proceed | Courts

Last month, a federal judge rejected an attempt by El Paso County and the jail’s former medical provider to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of intentionally ignoring an inmate’s serious medical needs.

Alexandro Duran, who is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, was transferred to the county jail in November 2021. While there, staff allegedly refused to provide him with accommodations that would prevent him from developing pressure sores from his wheelchair or bed.

Eventually, Duran developed wounds that reached down to his bones and muscles.

“Because his pressure ulcers were open, visible, and severe, Plaintiff repeatedly requested to be transferred to the hospital for appropriate care, but his requests were repeatedly ignored or denied,” Duran alleged in his lawsuit. “Plaintiff was not transferred to the hospital until he became septic and was transferred to an outside hospital for emergency treatment.”

According to Duran, the director of the prison’s medical program, George Santini, knew about the need to clean the wound and remove damaged tissue but failed to do so. Duran argued that the county failed to consider his disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that Santini violated his constitutional rights because he knew about his serious medical condition and refused to provide appropriate care.

He also made claims against the prison’s medical contractor, Wellpath, for running an “insufficient medical program.” Finally, he accused the county Board of Commissioners of hiring Wellpath in 2019 despite knowing about its systemic shortcomings when his predecessor was the prison’s medical provider before 2017.

All defendants moved to dismiss Duran’s lawsuit.

The county argued that the decision to hire Wellpath was not the type of action that would open the government to liability for Duran’s medical care. In addition, Duran did not provide sufficient details about the alleged lack of facilities.

Wellpath, in turn, claimed Duran failed to “connect the dots” between the severity of Duran’s infected wounds and Santini’s knowledge of the problem.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse in Denver

In a June 11 order, U.S. District Court Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney rejected the defendants’ arguments. She noted that Duran had specifically argued that the risk was due to the wounds “penetrating deep into his body.”

“These wounds would obviously be alarming to a reasonable layperson, let alone a reasonable physician, so Dr. Santini should have concluded that these pressure sores exposed Mr. Duran to a significant risk of harm,” Sweeney wrote.

Because Duran credibly accused Santini of violating his rights, Sweeney found Wellpath could also be held liable for its own alleged role — a history of “delaying transfers to off-site medical services, maintaining a backlog of medical claims, and understaffing, amounting to a pattern of operating an underperforming medical program.”

As for El Paso County, Sweeney noted that Duran was not simply arguing that the county board’s decision to hire Wellpath led to a constitutional violation. Instead, Duran argued that the county entered into the contract with Wellpath despite serious problems with the previous company in the recent past.

“The decision to contract with Wellpath, despite prior knowledge of its system’s shortcomings, likely constitutes deliberate indifference,” Sweeney wrote.

Earlier this year, a new contractor took over Wellpath’s duties at the county jail. KRDO reported that the jail had 27 deaths between Wellpath’s hiring in 2019 and May 2023. Last year, the county reached a $3 million settlement with the family of an inmate who died in 2021 of medical causes.

Sweeney also recently refused to dismiss similar allegations against Wellpath made by Jefferson County Jail inmates, also for allegedly failing to appropriately respond to serious medical conditions.

The thing is this Duran v. Wellpath, LLC et al.