TRAVERSE CITY — A lawsuit filed in federal court claims a corporate healthcare provider’s policies endangered the lives of two Grand Traverse County jail inmates.
The class action seeks punitive and other damages from Wellpath, and was filed by Detroit-area attorney Matt Robb, on behalf of plaintiffs Cheryl Hall and Brad Lafuze.
The suit claims Welllpath’s policy is to “cut patients with mental illness off their psychotropic medication first and ask questions later” in order to increase profits.
“Its very clear that Wellpath altered their policy to make it easier to cut people off their meds,” Robb said in a telephone interview. “The purpose for that is to save costs and offer contracts that are more lucrative.”
Robb said if a prescription medication is not included in Wellpath’s formulary, an inmate is cut off cold turkey with sometimes disastrous results. Staff also mis-categorizes high priority medications as routine, he said.
As previously reported by the Record-Eagle, jail staff says the inmate would receive a substitute prescription on Wellpath’s formulary and in the same class of medications.
Wellpath, previously Correct Care Solutions, is a $1.5 billion Nashville-based corporation that provides inmate healthcare to more than 130,000 adult and juvenile patients in 394 county jails in 36 states, according to the company’s website.
From 2014 through 2018, more than 50 federal lawsuits were filed against the company, according to Prison Legal News. Some estimates say the number is actually much higher, and could be three times that.
In Michigan, more than two dozen county jails have contracted with the provider.
Hall and Lafuze were incarcerated in Grand Traverse County’s jail in 2019 in unrelated incidents and both were taking doctor-prescribed psychotropic medication at the time of their arrest.
Hall for anxiety, major depression and insomnia; Lafuze for bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, Robb said.
Hall was arrested on embezzlement charges and was booked into the jail Feb. 2, 2019 and released on bond Feb. 4. She was again the jail in June prior to sentencing.
She is currently incarcerated in Huron Valley Women’s Complex in Ypsilanti and will be eligible for parole in August.
She declined comment through a Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson.
Lafuze was arrested March 6 for operating with a suspended license and a moving violation causing death. He was released on bond two days later, his case was sent to Circuit Court where Lafuze accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 112 days in jail and two years probation.
Lafuze declined comment through his attorney.
Both Hall and Lafuze are relatives of Greg Hall, the founder of a Facebook page, Abuse at the Grand Traverse County Jail, which he said seeks to shed light on inmate care.
To date, he said, the site has had 115,000 visits.
Cheryl Hall is Greg Hall’s mother. And Lafuze is his brother-in-law.
During Cheryl Hall’s incarceration in the jail, she was taken to Munson emergency room for evaluation Feb. 4, after experiencing a severe headache, dizziness, and a blood pressure reading of 204 over 123.
Hall says his mother’s health was compromised when she wasn’t provided prescribed medication even though he says he handed it to a Wellpath nurse at the jail.
Medication was also not provided during her second incarceration, her son said.
“We feel that Wellpath is the medical provider and that they certainly have the responsibility to make sure inmates receive the care that they need,” Hall said. “Does that absolve the county of any responsibility? No, I don’t think it does. But I’m satisfied with Wellpath being the named defendant at this point.”
Lafuze is an Iraq War veteran who was struck with an Improvised Explosive Device in 2009 during his service in the U.S. Armed Forces and was later diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, depression and epilepsy.
He was on five prescribed psychotropic medications prior to being incarcerated which a family member says they took to the jail, according to the suit. Once booked into the jail, he was given one medication to control seizures but none of his psychotropic meds, the suit claims, and he was plagued by thoughts of suicide.
A week later, the suit claims, Lafuze was provided his medications by the Veterans Administration.
In September 2019, Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger conducted a lengthy inquiry into the care Cheryl Hall received in the jail, in which he issued a report and found no wrongdoing.
“Wellpath staff,” he wrote in his report, “assures us that they are following the best practices for correctional institutions as is determined by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and Wellpath’s experience in providing medical services.”
“From my review of the information available I believe that jail staff and the staff of Wellpath acted within the policies and procedures” of both the jail and Wellpath, Alger stated.
Robb said Wellpath has 21 days to respond to the suit, though it is common in class actions for named defendants to file for one and sometimes multiple extensions.
Neither Alger nor Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley could be reached for comment.