Target: Commissioner LaDonna H. Thompson, Kentucky Department of Corrections
Goal: Applaud termination of employment for three negligent prison physicians
Three members of the Kentucky State Penitentiary’s medical staff have been fired due to their negligence which resulted in the death of a mentally ill inmate. Steve Hiland, the prison’s lead physician, who has been involved in several other cases of negligence, was among those fired. The incident also led to a review of practices which uncovered other issues, such as staff failure to adequately monitor patients’ medical well-being.
James Kenneth Embry, 57, began a hunger strike when prison psychologists refused to put him back on an anti-anxiety medication which he had stopped taking. Despite Embry’s self-harm and recurring mentions of suicide, staff determined that he exhibited no serious signs of mental illness. He refused to eat for weeks before being moved to an observation cell where staff again did not address the patient’s mental health problems.
Embry remained on hunger strike for weeks, his condition quickly deteriorating as he lost weight. When medical staff recommended he be moved to the infirmary, superiors not only refused the request, but recommended that Embry be taken off hunger strike watch. He died later that day of dehydration, with underlying starvation issues.
The investigation concluded that the lead physician Hiland had failed to adequately check up on patients during his visits. He has been sued over 100 times in the past 20 years for negligence-related cases, including the death of an inmate who Hiland believed was faking an illness. Two others, including the staff member who refused Embry entry into the infirmary, were also fired.
As prison can create or exacerbate mental illness, it is imperative that all prison staff are adequately monitoring and treating mental health issues. The termination of these negligent employees and reforms in medical processes will create a far better care environment for ill patients. Commend the Kentucky Corrections Department for their efforts to ensure proper treatment for prisoners.
Dear Commissioner LaDonna H. Thompson,
Three medical staff members were recently dismissed from their positions at the Kentucky State Penitentiary after a prisoner died due to negligence. The staff failed to treat James Kenneth Embry’s mental illnesses with medication, despite his self harm and refusal to eat. Staff then failed to transport Embry to the infirmary when his condition declined, and allowed him to die of dehydration and starvation.
The primary purpose of prison is rehabilitation, and it is therefore necessary to attend to all mental health issues with proper treatment. I applaud the correctional department’s attempts to ensure proper care for all patients, and ask that you continue to hold medical staff to the highest standards of care.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations via Flickr Creative Commons