Forsyth County Jail’s medical provider says in court papers that an inmate’s death in 2017 was caused by his pre-existing medical conditions and not by any alleged neglect from the jail’s medical staff.
Stephen Antwan Patterson, 40, died May 26, 2017, at the jail, where he was being held on a charge of failure to pay child support. Patterson’s eldest son, Zyrale Jeter, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Correct Care Solutions LLC, the jail’s medical provider, and others, including Dr. Alan Rhoades, the jail’s medical director. The lawsuit alleged that jail medical personnel ignored and failed to properly treat Patterson’s high blood pressure, leading to his death. Correct Care Solutions is now known as Wellpath.
Recently, a legal dispute had emerged over the exact cause of Patterson’s death, but early this month, both parties announced that the lawsuit had been settled. Attorneys for both sides have declined to discuss details about the settlement, which has to be approved by a federal judge.
On Monday, the attorneys filed a joint motion seeking the judge’s approval. The motion contains a detailed account of what Correct Care Solutions would have argued at trial, which was scheduled to start the week of Dec. 7.
According to an autopsy report, Patterson died from an irregular heartbeat due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease. The autopsy also found that he had an enlarged heart and a thickened left ventricle that made it hard for blood to be pumped throughout the rest of Patterson’s body.
The lawsuit said that when Patterson came to the jail on May 18, 2017, his blood pressure measured 218/140, which attorneys for Patterson’s estate contend should have resulted in immediate emergency treatment. That didn’t happen. The lawsuit alleged that medical staff checked Patterson’s blood pressure for two days and then failed to do so for the rest of Patterson’s stay at the jail. The lawsuit also alleged that medical staff failed to see whether the medications that Patterson was given worked effectively.
But the motion filed Monday says that attorneys for Correct Care had three doctors, including a board certified Duke University pathologist, who say Patterson’s death was caused by pre-existing medical conditions. Patterson died from a sudden cardiac arrhythmia caused by those pre-existing conditions that included a thickened left ventricle and a blood vessel disorder known as fibromuscular dysplasia of small arteries, the doctors would have testified, according to the motion.
They also would have said that the disorder was confirmed through major microscopic findings in Patterson’s autopsy slides, showing thickening of the walls and severe narrowing of small arteries that supply blood to two key components of the heart. One artery was between 80 to 90 percent blocked, while another one was 90 percent blocked, the court papers said.
“All three of Defendants’ board certified medical doctors hold opinions that these pre-existing conditions led to Mr. Patterson’s fatal cardiac arrhythmia,” the motion said.
Correct Care officials also said that Patterson told jail officials that he had high blood pressure when he came into the jail and that he had not taken his blood pressure medication for six months. The lawsuit said Patterson couldn’t obtain his medication because he didn’t have access to a medical provider. Correct Care officials also said Patterson never made any complaints and that the blood pressure medication he was given was the same given to him during a prior incarceration at the jail.
The blood disorder was at the center of the recent legal dispute. Attorneys for Patterson’s estate had designated Dr. Justin Smith, a cardiologist, as an expert who would have testified that he found no evidence to dispute the official cause of death and that he found no evidence that Patterson had fibromuscular dysplasia.
John Taylor, attorney for Patterson’s estate, could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
Judy Lilley, a spokeswoman for Wellpath, the new name for Correct Care, declined to comment.
“Wellpath does not comment on any active litigation,” she said in a statement. “Additionally, due to privacy laws, Wellpath is unable to comment on the care provided in this case.”
Jennifer Milak, an attorney for Correct Care Solutions, objected to Smith’s designation as an expert, court documents said.
Attorneys for Patterson’s estate still contend that the jail’s medical staff did not follow the standard level of care for Patterson. But the motion said that the parties agreed to settle, partially to avoid costly litigation.
The attorneys have filed settlement documents but have asked a federal court to seal them from the public. A judge has not made a decision. It is not clear when the judge would approve the settlement.
Patterson was one of two men who died at the Forsyth County Jail in May 2017. The other is Deshawn Coley. His mother, Josephine Coley, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court. That lawsuit is pending.