Sherman Law Files Civil Rights Case Against Wellpath and Wichita County for Ignoring A Detainee's Urgent Medical Needs

Posted by Stephanie Sherman | Dec 15, 2021 | 0 Comments


A civil rights case was filed this week under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in a north Texas federal court against Wellpath LLC, Wichita County, various nurses, and Dr. Robert Broselow, for their collective and deliberate indifference to the urgent medical needs of Joseph Reed, a detainee, who was being held at the Wichita County jail on a hot check charge. The hot check charge was dismissed after the county realized Mr. Reed was close to death.

The business of providing, or in this case, not providing, healthcare to prisoners in county jails throughout the United States is a multi-billion-dollar industry.  There are huge profits to be made by private companies promising and/or contracting to provide medical services to prisoners.  Wellpath is a private company and the largest provider of jail healthcare in the U.S.  A study by Reuters analyzing jail death records found that the risk of death in privately managed jails is 18-58% higher than those managed by local government.  In this case, the company is Wellpath, LLC, a Nashville corporation owned by H.I.G. Capital, a private equity firm with over 45 billion of equity capital under management.  H.I.G. buys and joins private companies providing prison healthcare to dominate the market.  Wellpath is the product of H.I.G.'s purchase and joinder of Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Medical Group Companies.  

Wellpath currently provides correctional medical and/or mental health care services in 40 states including Texas jails located in Bell County, Collin County, Ellis County, Fort Bend County, Hays County, Kerr County, Montgomery County, Nueces County, Reeves County, Wichita County, and several federal prisons. Wellpath earns million-dollar jail contracts by proposing all the bells and whistles of correctional healthcare to county government officials and sells their ability to oversee the delivery of the jail's healthcare program without the government officials having to manage the day-to-day operations or shoulder the risk and liabilities of getting sued for providing inadequate care.  Companies such as Wellpath are willing to take the liability risk of providing subpar care because they understand the ones complaining are usually poor, uneducated people, with a credibility problem due to their criminal history.  Moreover, Wellpath understands that these type of jail cases have a higher burden of proof.

Privatization of jail medical care in the United States is big business where the companies aren't afraid to take risks, even if criminal.  Gerald Boyle, the founder of Wellpath, was indicted in 2019 for federal conspiracy and bribery charges, including giving cash and gifts to government and political officials in exchange for favors for his company, Wellpath, including jail medical services contract extensions and renewals, as well as inside bidding information.  His trial is pending. 

In this case, the defendants knew Mr. Reed's health was suddenly deteriorating but they intentionally disregarded his urgent medical needs and calls for help leaving him to lay for days in a solitary cell in his own feces. The U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment protects a pretrial detainees' right to medical care. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees pretrial detainees a right not to have their serious medical needs met with deliberate indifference on the part of the confining officials. A government official violates a Fourteenth Amendment right when the official acts with deliberate indifference to a detainee's serious medical needs. A serious medical condition or need is one for which treatment has been recommended or for which the need is so apparent that even laymen would recognize that care is required. Sims v. City of Jasper, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107677, *1, __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2021 WL 2349350.  A private company such as Wellpath that contracts to provide healthcare at prisons is acting under "color of state law" and is thus liable under federal law for constitutional violations.  

The defendants' deliberate indifference caused Mr. Reed to suffer acute organ failure, a coma, and to endure six surgeries leaving him with a colostomy bag and permanent disfigurement.  The egregiousness of the defendants' conduct is underscored in their own medical chart in which a nurse documents, during rounds, movement was noted to "verify life." 

Mr. Reed entered the jail a healthy able-bodied man.  During his short detention, Mr. Reed was exposed to cryptosporidium, a water born pathogen that is toxic to humans if not treated.  If treated, the patient can improve within days and have a complete recovery without any lingering issues. The clinical manifestations of humans infected with cryptosporidium include profuse, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss.  The most common source of exposure is contaminated drinking water.  The protocol for a patient that presents with severe watery diarrhea, weight loss, and malaise is to take a history of the complaints and a stool sample.  A short course of antibiotics will kill the infection.  Remarkably, the defendants had stool sampling kits on site and within arm's reach but chose not to use them.  

With the sudden onset of uncontrolled and incessant diarrhea and cramps, Mr. Reed made 4 urgent nurse calls to the Wellpath clinic.  The protocol for sick calls was to triage the medical complaints, and see the inmate face to face for further consultation.  Defendants ignored Mr. Reed's urgent calls.  Medical appointments were set, but then canceled or deleted without cause.  No one from the clinic ever went to see or assess Mr. Reed in response to his urgent calls. 

By the 4th day of Mr. Reed's decline, a guard noticed his serious condition and took him to the clinic.  The nurse/health services administrator gave Mr. Reed some over the counter gas-x and Imodium and sent him back to his cell.  The nurse ignored Mr. Reed's vitals that signaled a serious infection.  The nurse did not take a stool sample, did not order any testing, and did not consult or call the jail doctor.  A couple of days later, Mr. Reed was moved to a solitary cell by wheelchair.  He was so weak that he could not walk.  The defendants tried to take blood after moving him to solitary but he was too dehydrated.  Rather than transporting Mr. Reed to a higher level of care, the defendants gave up and abandoned efforts to take blood or do anything further.  By this point, Mr. Reed had lost 30 pounds and was so weak that he could not even communicate or ask for help. 

On the 11th day, Mr. Reed was seen by the jail doctor, Dr. Robert Broselow, who called 911 and sent him to the emergency room at United Regional Medical Center, in Wichita Falls.  Dr. Broselow took no medical action in response to Mr. Reed's urgent medical calls at any time during the 10 days prior.   The last entry in the jail medical chart notes that Mr. Reed was critically ill and intubated following testing positive for cryptosporidium.  By the time Mr. Reed arrived at the emergency room, his body was so infested with infection that he was difficult to treat. The lining of his colon was so thin and frail that simple procedures such as a colonoscopy resulted in tearing and further complications.  Sutures were difficult to maintain because of the pressure of the infection fluid that was pushing the sutures open over and over.  Several openings had to be made in his body to clean out the infection that was pervasive.  Mr. Reed remained intubated on the ventilator and in the intensive care unit.   Mr. Reed's prognosis was listed as poor, and a referral was sent to the in-house palliative team. Mr. Reed's family was contacted and advised that he likely will not survive.  Mr. Reed continues to suffer and is scheduled for a 7th surgery to repair his prolapsed stoma, which means that his intestines are protruding out of his body.

Wellpath has a solid history of civil rights litigation history. They were ordered to turn over its litigation history in a Colorado federal court which showed they have been sued close to 1400 times in similar cases.  This is not their first rodeo.   Unfortunately for Joseph Reed, Wichita County hired Wellpath for its jails in 2019. Mr. Reed entered the jail a healthy man but left near death. Ultimately, the hot check charge that brought Mr. Reed to Wichita County was dismissed in January 2020.  He was never convicted or sentenced of any crime. 

Read the complaint here: 

Complaint Filed_12.10.21.pdf
Joseph Reed v. Wellpath LLC et al.

Sherman Law investigates and prosecutes constitutional violations resulting in death or disability.   Your consultation is private and confidential. There is no fee, unless there is a recovery. Take ACTION now before its too late.  Statute of limitations apply to your potential claim.  

About the Author

Stephanie Sherman

On June 1, 2022, I joined the nationwide award-winning law firm, Baum Hedlund.  I am grateful to join this elite group of trailblazers that is so deeply committed to taking on tough cases and fighting for the underdog. You can still reach me here, via my bio page or at 800-827-0087. Stephani...


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