The Forsyth County Jail’s medical provider is disputing an inmate’s cause of death, which is at the center of a pending federal lawsuit, according to court documents.

Stephen Antwan Patterson, 40, died May 26, 2017 at the Forsyth County Jail. An autopsy report said he died from an irregular heartbeat that was due to hypertensive cardiovascular diseases. Patterson had an enlarged heart and a thickened left ventricle, meaning the ventricle had to work harder to pump blood through the rest of his body.

Patterson was one of two men who died at the jail in May 2017. Deshawn Coley is the other inmate and his family have a pending wrongful-death lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court.

Patterson’s oldest son, Zyrale Jeter, who is the executor of his father’s estate, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina. A key allegation in the lawsuit is that the jail’s medical personnel ignored and failed to treat Patterson’s high blood pressure, which measured 210/140. Patterson’s attorneys argue in court papers that his abnormally high blood pressure required immediate emergency medical attention. They said medical personnel at the jail failed to monitor Patterson’s blood pressure and to determine if medication Patterson was given worked.

The lawsuit is against Correct Care Solutions Inc., now known as Wellpath. Wellpath has denied the allegations in the lawsuit, saying that Patterson was given three medications the day he entered the jail. The company also argues that Patterson failed to exercise reasonable care for his health and safety because he refused to take his medication on the day he died.

And according to court papers, Wellpath’s attorneys argue that Patterson actually died from cardiac arrest stemming from a blood vessel disorder known as fibromuscular dysplasia of the microscopic vessels. The disorder affects the arteries in the body and according to medical experts testifying on behalf of Patterson, it can slow the activity of the heart and might require a pacemaker.

But it does not cause an irregular heartbeat, John Taylor, one of Patterson’s attorneys, wrote in court papers.

Taylor said Patterson’s attorneys didn’t find out that Wellpath would dispute the cause of death until a mediation meeting between the parties on March 25. The company’s attorneys said they had gotten an expert cardiologist and an expert pathologist to testify on the cause of death.

All of this has led to a legal battle over experts. Jennifer Milak, an attorney for Wellpath, has filed an objection to allowing Dr. Justin Smith, an expert cardiologist, from offering testimony in the lawsuit. Taylor said Patterson’s attorneys got their own expert after defendants challenged the cause of death. Milak did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

In a report, Smith said he didn’t find any credible evidence to dispute Patterson’s official cause of death. Fibromuscular dysplasia is generally found in women and there was no evidence of such a condition in Patterson’s autopsy, Smith said in his report.

“It is my opinion, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that decedent more likely than not suffered from complications resulting from improper treatment of long-standing heart disease due to hypertension and diabetes,” Smith said.

In court documents, Taylor, the attorney for Patterson, alleges that Dr. Alan Rhoades, the medical director at the jail, reviewed Patterson’s medical chart on May 19, 2017, 12 hours after Patterson had gotten his first dose of medication. Patterson’s blood pressure had been measured at 204/138, and Rhoades compared that to a lower blood pressure reading from Patterson’s previous stay at the jail, which measured 122/82.

“Why is it elevated now,” Rhoades asked. He testified during a deposition that he thought the medications had not had time to work, according to court documents.

“Rather than referring decedent to an emergency room for immediate treatment, or even bothering to check decedent’s blood pressure himself (a blood pressure that was clearly not responding to medication), or write new orders, Dr. Rhoades left decedent in the care of the nurse practitioner and/or nursing staff and did not see decedent or inquire into his condition again,” Taylor wrote.

Dr. Stephen Klein, an expert witness for the plaintiff, said in a deposition that Rhoades’ alleged failure to get Patterson’s emergency treatment “was clearly below the standard of care.”

The lawsuit said that medical personnel at the jail never again checked Patterson’s blood pressure after initially doing it the first two days he was at the jail.

A trial in the lawsuit is scheduled to start Dec. 7.

mhewlett@wsjournal.com

336-727-7326

@mhewlettWSJ

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