DE: Employee Files Suit Over PTSD Following Prisoner’s Death

Liz Carey

Wilmington, DE (WorkersCompensation.com) – A former health administrator has filed suit over workers’ compensation benefits against the private company that provided health services for a Delaware correctional institution following the death of an inmate.

Tracey Crews worked for Connections Community Support Programs, Inc. as the health services administrator at Howard Young Correctional Institution (HYCI) when inmate Luis Cabrera became ill on Nov. 8, 2018.

According to court documents, Crews asked Connections’ nurses and other medical personnel to administer pain medications to Cabrera when he was brought to the prison’s infirmary complaining of severe abdominal pain.

Over two days, Cabrera suffered because Nurse Practitioner Kathryn Stillman refused to provide him with pain relief or medical treatment, the suit claims. According to Crews, Stillman alleged Cabrera was faking his symptoms and did not believe the inmate was sick. Although Crews asked repeatedly for Stillman and other Connections employees to administer pain medications or medical treatment to the inmate, no treatment was given. Corrections officers found Cabrera unresponsive on the floor of his cell in the infirmary two days later. An autopsy found that he died of a perforated ulcer that allowed fecal matter to flow into his abdomen.

Cabrera was serving three life sentences at HYCI, as well as another 44 years, for convictions on several charges including three counts of first degree murder, conspiracy, possessing a firearm while committing a felony and burglary. Cabrera was also part of an ongoing lawsuit against a separate correctional facility following a riot there in 2017.

Connections Community Support Programs contracts with the Delaware Department of Corrections to provide health services for the state’s corrections facilities. The contract paid Connections more than $40 million per year, as of 2018. But inmates in the past have complained that they do not get adequate medical treatment. In 2017, an inmate sued Connections and the state of Delaware saying that his rectal cancer was left untreated and is now terminal.

Crews said she developed PTSD as a result of witnessing Cabrera’s suffering and death, and that emotional and psychological trauma she underwent have left her unable to work, court filings said.

After the incident, Connections placed Crews on a “Performance Improvement Plan” to address what managers called performance issues, despite the fact that Crews had a spotless performance record. Additionally, Crews began to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety for which she sought medical treatment.

Crews was transferred to another correctional facility, and forced to take time off prior to beginning her new position. During that time, Crews found that she was unable to work, the lawsuit alleges, and was told by her employer to file for Family Medical Leave Act time off, and subsequently to file for workers’ compensation. When Crews filed for workers’ compensation, she was told that her job could not be guaranteed should she take more time off.

Attorney Chris Johnson filed the law suit on Crews behalf, alleging Connections violated the Delaware Whistleblowers’ Protection Act when it fired her after she objected to the denial of proper medical treatment for Cabrera and it violated the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act when it fired her in retaliation for her PTSD claim.

“Connections’ lack of proper oversight at HYCI lead to the death of Luis Cabrera, plain and simple. When Ms. Crews complained about what she believed to be blatant inmate maltreatment, she was silenced and ultimately fired,” Johnson said in a statement. “Ms. Crews was a model employee prior to complaining about Mr. Cabrera’s lack of proper medical care. Our lawsuit is intended to clear her name and to hold Connections accountable for the alleged misconduct as detailed in our complaint.”

Crews said it was her duty to act.

“I am the voice for the voiceless,” she said in a press conference on Monday. “Unfortunately, Mr. Cabrera’s voice will never be heard again. However, his truth will be told.”

Eric Young, another of Crews’ attorneys, said during the press conference that Crews was a model employee. She was fired, Young said, for speaking out against Cabrera’s treatment, which she believed to be inhumane.

“She did everything right in terms of putting management on notice of what she believed to be, in her medical judgment, mistreatment of a prisoner,” he said. “And her complaints were ignored and ultimately an inmate died.”

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