Sheriff addresses inmate deaths at Chatham County jail

Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher says he promised “transparency and that he would never have anything to hide” when he took office last April. That’s one of the reasons he called reporters together to hear him indicate that GBI and or county coroner reports are completed on four deaths that took place at the jail since last September. (Three of them since he took office in April of 2016,)

Of the four deaths, three of them were of natural causes, according to Wilcher (Jerome Bright in February of 2016, Jimmy Alexander in May of 2016 and Tony White in September of 2016.) He said the fourth death, that of Guy Leonard in September of 2016 was from suicide.

“I can’t predict when somebody’s going to die or somebody’s going to get sick. Our job is to make sure that they’re taken care of to the best of our ability and get them to medical and let medical send them to the hospital,” said Wilcher.

Wilcher told reporters he’s “running the jail according to policies and procedures” and thinks his staff has done an excellent job.”

He also said he believes the new healthcare provider CorrectHealth “has done an excellent job since they’ve been in and he has no problems with them whatsoever.”

Wilcher said CorrectHealth has made changes as promised when the Atlanta firm got the $7 million contract with Chatham County to provide medical

services at the jail. He said one of those requirements was more intake and medical evaluations before inmates even enter the facility. “Well, they’ve met our needs number one,” the sheriff said. “We have a nurse at the back door and like i said and another one and before with Corizon you only had one nurse back there.”

However, a few months ago, a firm hired as a jail monitor wrote County Manager Lee Smith indicating concerns about CorrectHealth staffing. The firm, Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS) said “staffing has been an ongoing challenge at the jail. It said it had identified several staffing concerns (with CorrectHealth) that impacted risk. The letter saying this was “despite reports that CorrectHealth is fully staffed.”

The letter said during a monitoring period in early February that just one LPN was on duty with 21 inmates in the infirmary and six people on suicide watch.  And it went on to say that “a lack consistent policies and procedures in mental health and suicide prevention in some cases might increase the likelihood of an adverse event.”   Finally,  COCHS recommended that CorrectHealth be fined $3 million for staffing vacancies and other other issues such as intake screenings.”

But when asked about the issues with CorrectHealth and the proposed fine, Sheriff Wilcher refused comment telling me “that is not my call. They (CorrectHealth) work for the County Manager and they work for the County Attorney, you’ll have to ask them that.”

We attempted to find out from those two county officials if there’s any reason to believe the county will try to fine CorrectHealth (any amount of money) or if CorrectHealth has made many corrections outlined n the February letter. We didn’t hear back at this point.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Wilcher says while he feels his staff is doing a good job that improvements can always be made . He said “we’re re-writing all of our policies and procedures and going back and looking at ones we need to correct if they need to be corrected.”


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