A nurse who worked at Southern Regional Jail for six months in 2019 said Wednesday that not only are prisoners at the state facility in Beaver not given adequate medical care, she once witnessed a guard assaulting a handcuffed prisoner who was receiving medical care.
Pamela Stroman, a licensed practical nurse who lives in Sophia and is suing SRJ on civil rights violations, said Wednesday that from May to October 2019, she worked for PrimeCare, the Pennsylvania-based health care company that state officials pay to provide care for inmates at SRJ. Some of the inmates at the facility have not had a trial, cannot afford bail and are awaiting trial.
Stroman said that PrimeCare does not provide adequate care for the inmates at SRJ.
“They’re not organized, but they don’t want help, either,” said Stroman. “It’s like they have a preconceived notion that if someone is an inmate, whether they’re guilty or not, they’re already a monster, and they don’t deserve any sort of decent treatment.
“I think that’s a lot of the problem,” she said, when asked to discuss how improvements could be made.
“When did we stop looking at people and seeing ‘guilty until proven innocent’ instead of ‘innocent until proven guilty’?
“It’s none of (a nurse’s) business if they’re guilty or not,” she added. “We should not have access to that information at all.
“We need to look at them as a patient, someone who needs our help and needs our advocacy.”
Stroman has worked at other jails, including for the Virginia Department of Corrections, and she said that the culture at SRJ is “light-years” behind those at the facility where she most recently worked.
On Wednesday, WVVA reported that Gov. Jim Justice has called for a formal investigation into conditions at SRJ shortly after the local news station published reports by two guards who said some inmates were denied water for several days.
A number of prisoners have contacted The Register-Herald to report that guards have encouraging inmates to attack other inmates and that prisoners’ living and medical conditions are “deplorable.”
Stroman described one incident in which a guard struck a male inmate who was seeking medical care.
“I was requested to come in and look at an inmate,” she recalls. “He was handcuffed, sitting on the gurney, and he was, I’d say, about half the size of the officer that was with him.
“The officer that was with him backhanded him,” she said. “He was handcuffed. Sitting on the gurney.”
Stroman said when she walked into the room, the officer saw that he had been caught and that he did not continue striking the patient. She added that there were no cameras inside of that particular room.
The patient was repeatedly asking the officer why he had hit him, Stroman said.
“The inmate was apparently ‘running his mouth too much,’” Stroman said. “And the (officer) didn’t like it.
“There was no way (the patient) could respond, at all.”
Stroman said she was shocked and confused.
Later, a nurse she called “Jessica” approached her and said that the guard wanted Jessica to make sure that Stroman “didn’t say anything.”
“I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Stroman recalled. “I didn’t understand what she was saying.
“She specifically told me not to say anything about this officer that backhanded the inmate.”
Stroman said that she witnessed the medical care of the late Eddie Williams, an Artie man who was imprisoned at SRJ after he and three other people entered an abandoned mine in December 2018.
Williams, 44, was diagnosed with melanoma while at SRJ. His attorney, Robert Dunlap, had petitioned Raleigh County Circuit Court judges to release him to home confinement, first in August and later in October 2019.
Dunlap cancer that PrimeCare was not giving Williams adequate medical care for his.
Raleigh Circuit Judge Andrew Dimlich Williams to the home of his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie Ashley of Artie, in October 2019. Ashley said that Williams had received unsuitable care from July to October, while Dunlap reported that Williams’ condition had deteriorated rapidly while Primecare was treat him.
Stroman, who worked for PrimeCare and treated Williams, publicly confirmed Dunlap’s report on Wednesday.
“I had complained about (Williams’) situation because he was in general population,” she said. “He had this knot on the back of his neck. It was a visible knot, at the base of his neck, between his shoulder blades, and it just kept growing.
“It was visible,” she emphasized. “He had put in for sick call, and he had wanted to get seen, and he told me specifically that he had a situation like this before, and he really needed a doctor.”
Stroman said an adequate response was for PrimeCare staff to prioritize the care of a patient who reported a history of a disease. However, she was not in a position to urge the day shift doctors to order Williams to see an “outside” doctor or a doctor not in PrimeCare’s SRJ system, for adequate treatment of melanoma.
“I had repetitively brought this up, and nothing was done,” she reported. “Towards the end of my time there, he ended up being transferred into the medical unit, where we were taking care of him,” she said. “We were changing his bandages… Changing that bandage was awful.”
“It turned out he had cancer, and he was going to die from it,” said Stroman.
Stroman, who worked as a nightshift nurse, said Williams was “very kind whenever he talked to any of us” and that he seemed to “sad but resign” to the idea that he had cancer and would not be able to receive adequate care.
eventually, she said, Williams left the jail for outside care. He died at his girlfriend’s home in December 2019.
According to Stroman, Williams’ situation was not unique. She charged that PrimeCare is not offering adequate care to West Virginia residents and others who are imprisoned at SRJ.
“They have a lot of issues where nobody’s keeping proper records,” she said. “They’re putting things off to the next day.
“They do not understand how to triage. The woman that was our boss was non-confrontational, so if you brought a situation to her, she blew it off,” Stroman reported. “I couldn’t work in those conditions.
“I felt like everything was wrong,” she added. “As a nurse, you’re your patient’s advocate.
“Even if that patient was an inmate, I never wanted to know what they did, because I never wanted it to color what I thought of the people.”
On one occasion, she said, she was ordered to give ibuprofen to a patient who had been ordered to receive Naproxin. Both are over-the-counter pain relievers, but Stroman said she refused.
The nurse did with her and told her that the patient would not know the difference, Stroman said.
“I said I would know I was giving him the wrong medication, and what if he had a reaction to it?” Stroman said.
On another occasion, she said she witnessed a patient not receiving a medicine that was significant to his health care plan. The nurse told Stroman the patient had received it, she said, but the patient said he had not.
Later, Stroman saw the medicine had not been taken to the patient.
Patients must use PrimeCare services unless a doctor orders that the patient travel outside the jail network to another health care provider.
Stroman meaningful that, in addition to inappropriate medical care, there are a number of romantic relationships between guards and nurses, guards and prisoners, guards and guards and nurses and nurses, including hetero- and same-sex relationships.
She reported that one male guard was reported “asked to resign” after engaging in sexual relationships with four female inmates and bringing contraband into the jail for them.
Stroman said she believed the guard should have been fired and evaluated.
Stroman said more attention should be given to the bedding and temperatures of jail cells, which routine are too hot or too cold for healthy living.
Stroman has filed a civil suit against SRJ but declined to discuss the case, based on the advice of her attorney.
Family members of deceased inmates have pressed for the state to investigate over the past year.
In September, 81-year-old Annell Payne of Beckley said that her son, Kyle Steven Robinson, 55, had died under unexplained circumstances on Sept. 4 after being being incarcerated at SRJ for operating an open dump. Robinson had just had a serious surgery and had 200 metal staples in his leg, and Payne said he didn’t get adequate medical care. She received a short call from the jail on Sept. 5 to tell her that her son had died, she said.
On March 1, 37-year-old Quantez Burks of Beckley died at SRJ after an altercation with a guard. His family and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have requested surveillance video from the jail.
Burks’ death is under state investigation.