Inmates complain about lack of medical care at Allegheny County Jail
December 16, 2014 12:00 AM
Allegheny County Jail as seen from Duquesne University campus.
Edwin Wylie-Biggs, 33, jailed for heroin possession and fleeing the police, has sued the Allegheny County Jail saying a nurse removed pins from his wrist.
By Rich Lord and Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In their own words or through a loved one, two recent Allegheny County Jail inmates have described troubling medical experiences at the jail.
Raymond Zwibel, 42, has been in lock-up since February, when he was picked up by federal marshals and Blair County sheriff’s deputies on outstanding warrants. He was sentenced Nov. 5 after pleading guilty to several charges, including criminal trespass, robbery and receiving stolen property in separate cases, crimes his girlfriend Jennifer Sauers, 36, of Gibsonia, said stem from a years-long addiction to narcotics.
In the second week of September, just after the birth of the couple's son, Zwibel noticed a small, hard lump on his chest. It didn’t hurt, but he "wrote medical" — requested to be seen by a member of the medical staff — and received no response until the last week of that month, Ms. Sauers said.
That week, he went to the infirmary and was seen by a nurse and nurse practitioner, who confirmed there was a mass, gave him an antibiotic and called for "immediate testing," Ms. Sauers said. She said it was her understanding that meant he would go to a hospital for a biopsy.
He didn’t return to the infirmary until Oct. 17, this time complaining that the mass was growing. Staff again called for immediate testing, but it wasn’t until Nov. 25 that he went to UPMC Mercy for a surgical consultation.
The surgeon told him he would see him the next week to remove the mass and test it. It took until Dec. 11, Ms. Sauers said, for the clinical director sign paperwork for surgery, saying only that it would happen soon. In the meantime, Ms. Sauers said, Zwibel lost 10 pounds, has developed pain elsewhere in his body and noticed swollen lymph nodes.
“It’s been 14 weeks since he first wrote medical,” Ms. Sauers said. “We still don’t have any answers about what is wrong.”
Another inmate, Edwin Wylie-Biggs, 33, sued jail health care contractor Corizon, claiming that a nurse removed pins from his wrist in a procedure conducted in the lock-up’s infirmary.
Wylie-Biggs, 33, fled from police on Jan. 14, and jumped off of the Glassport-Clairton Bridge, falling around 100 feet, according to police. In August he pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering another person, fleeing an officer, possession of heroin with intent to sell and related charges. In October, he was sentenced to two to four years in prison.
Before he was taken to jail in January, Wylie-Biggs was hospitalized, and pins were placed in his right wrist.
In the lawsuit he filed pro se, Wylie-Biggs wrote that starting April 22 he repeatedly submitted slips asking to see a jail doctor after “pins that were place[d] in my right wrist began to protrude [from] the skin.” He was taken to the infirmary on June 19.
According to Wylie-Biggs’ lawsuit, he was then “seen by … Doctor Dave. He said surgery would be needed to remove the pins. … Only after the surgery and I was complaining about not being able to move right hand and wrist was x-ray taken days later, and I found out that the self proclaimed Doctor Dave was not a doctor, but only a nurse.”
The incident prompted an internal review in the jail, in which Corizon took the position that removal of pins wasn’t surgery.
County officials said Corizon employs one full-time and one part-time physician and neither is named Dave.
On Dec. 3, Wylie-Biggs filed a motion asking U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly to order the jail to send him “to another outside hospital, [due] to the fact that a third metal pin/rod has penetrated through skin.” Judge Kelly denied the motion a week later, but the lawsuit continues.
The day his motion was filed, Wylie-Biggs was transferred to the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh, to start the penitentiary portion of his sentence. He could not be reached for comment.