Speaking only for myself, I am so happy that D.C. Mayor Tony Williams decided to pay a visit to Washington this week. He even made a little news while he was here by announcing that he wasn't going to run again next year. I enjoyed his self-appraisal, except the part about D.C. government workers' performance. "City services," he said in a statement, "rose from the basement to the top floor." Say what? Surely he couldn't be talking about the D.C. Corrections Department.
Tell it to the family of Jonathan Magbie. He's the 27-year-old man who was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a childhood accident and who, despite never having been previously convicted of a criminal offense, was given a 10-day jail sentence in the D.C. jail by D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin as punishment for possession of a marijuana cigarette. Magbie died in city custody four days later. The mayor may have been too busy racking up frequent-flier miles to notice how his corrections workers have been performing.
As a service to His Honor, and to D.C. taxpayers who foot the bill for this department, this column will provide a look at the workers who attended to the late Mr. Magbie. The "view" and quoted allegations come courtesy of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and two attorneys on behalf of Magbie's mother, Mary R. Scott.
For the record, I requested interviews with the officials named below to obtain their reactions to charges and statements in the lawsuit. Yesterday, William Meeks, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said: "The matter is in litigation and under the advice of the D.C. attorney general. They will handle all inquiries." Attempts to reach the D.C. attorney general's office were unsuccessful. Okay, I'll wait to hear them testify under oath. Meanwhile, here's a glimpse, through the lawsuit, of several occupants of the mayor's "top floor":
* T. Wilkins Davis, M.D., radiologist providing medical services at the jail.
During the admission process at the jail on Sept. 20, Magbie had a chest X-ray indicating that he might have pneumonia. Davis interpreted the X-ray and knew that Magbie had an in-dwelling tracheotomy tube and was at heightened risk of pneumonia, the lawsuit said. Davis did not request any follow-up on the abnormal X-ray for five to seven days. Magbie never received any follow-up. After his death on Sept. 24, Magbie was determined to have suffered from acute pneumonia, the lawsuit alleges.
* Joseph Bastien, M.D., medical director of the Center for Correctional Health and Policy Studies, which provides medical care to inmates in the jail and at its Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF).
While awaiting placement at the jail on Sept. 20, 2004, Magbie experienced difficulty breathing, the lawsuit alleges. He told the jail staff he needed a ventilator to breathe at night. They transferred him to Greater Southeast Community Hospital. On Sept. 21 the hospital's physician called Bastien, who said that the jail could not provide a ventilator but could provide oxygen, the suit said. Bastien advised the hospital's physician to contact the CTF's chief medical officer regarding a possible transfer of Magbie to the CTF infirmary, "even though Dr. Bastien knew that the CTF infirmary did not have the equipment to deal with Mr. Magbie's respiratory needs, and that the infirmary lacked physician staffing during the night."
* Malek Malekghasemi, M.D., chief medical officer of the CTF.
Malekghasemi learned no later than Sept. 22 that Magbie needed ventilator support at night. Despite knowing that, as well as knowing that the CTF infirmary couldn't provide ventilator support, he failed to transfer Magbie from the infirmary, the lawsuit alleges. "Malekghasemi's sole attempt to provide for Magbie's care in a facility equipped to care for him was to ask the sentencing court for an order requiring the hospital to re-admit Magbie. He did not contact the hospital to attempt to arrange a readmission." In a Dec. 4, 2004, Post story, Malekghasemi told investigators that the CTF "should not have a patient that required a vent."
* Sunday Nwosu, M.D., in charge of the CTF infirmary.
Nwosu performed Magbie's admitting examination on Sept. 20. "Nwosu made no attempt to refuse admission to Magbie, although he knew the infirmary was not equipped to care for a patient with ventilator needs. Nwosu did not examine Magbie's lungs although he knew that the patient had a tracheotomy and a pulmonary pacemaker and that Magbie stated he was ventilator-dependent at night."
Nwosu also knew that Greater Southeast Hospital had treated Magbie for dehydration and low blood sugar and that Magbie, in view of his quadriplegia and tracheotomy-dependent condition, would require follow-up on the hospital findings, the lawsuit said. "Nwosu did not order monitoring of Magbie's fluid or caloric intake." Nwosu's admission note states that it was done on Sept. 21, 2004, but the note was not signed until three days later. "At the time the record was signed, on Sept. 24, Magbie was already in severe respiratory distress and would soon die."
Despite Nwosu's knowledge that Magbie required close monitoring by higher-level medical staff, "no doctor monitored him, even in his state of rapid declining health. The only medical staff who provided any care to Magbie were LPNs [licensed practical nurses]."
The suit said that Nwosu "failed to intervene although the LPNs documented that Magbie was eating almost nothing and had falling urine output between Sept. 21 and Sept. 24." Nwosu, the suit charged, also knew that he was required to review Magbie's records and knew, on the basis of medical records from the hospital and the CTF infirmary, that Magbie was at enormous risk of dehydration and low blood sugar from the lack of nutrition and fluid support in the infirmary, and that "these conditions would be overwhelmingly likely to trigger another respiratory crisis in light of Magbie's frail condition."
* Pauline Ojelfo and Gbenga Ogundipe, LPNs employed at the CTF.
The two LPNs knew they were required to perform tracheal suctioning on Magbie during their shifts to protect him from respiratory distress. The lawsuit alleges that they did not. "Ogundipe displayed personal hostility towards Magbie . . . and did not provide him with the fluids needed to prevent dehydration," nor did she or Ojelfo "communicate his needs to colleagues so that someone could provide the necessary care," according to the lawsuit.
* Officer Patricia Singley, corrections officer in charge of custody at the CTF infirmary.
"Singley caused Magbie to be placed in an infirmary room with a door that staff were able to lock. The room had no panic button nor any other means that Magbie could use to communicate with the staff while locked in his room." When his cell was locked, Magbie was isolated and helpless to communicate.
On various occasions, the suit charges, Magbie attempted to get water from the prisoner porters because of LPN Ogundipe's hostility. "On the night before Magbie's death, Singley enforced that order [prohibiting porters from giving him water] by locking his door." This chain of events, the decrease of oxygen in his blood to dangerous levels and the lack of observation by medical staff left him in acute respiratory crisis and unable to speak intelligibly, the lawsuit alleges. Magbie was transferred back to the hospital, where he died the same day.
The lawsuit also alleges failures at the hospital, but that's for another time. As for now, Mr. Mayor and D.C. taxpayers: Meet your employees and your tax dollars at work.