Jail health supervisor leaves post

LAWRENCEVILLE - After nine years, the woman tasked with supervising health care for Gwinnett County inmates has been reassigned to another post.

The departure of Dwana Gebhardt, health system administrator for Prison Health Services, comes four months after allegations of inadequate health care at the Gwinnett County Detention Center surfaced following the death of a female inmate.

Prison Health Services, based in Nashville, Tenn., is the nation's largest private provider of correctional health care. The company has a contract with Gwinnett to provide medical services for both the detention center and Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex.

Officials at the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department say Gebhardt's reassignment is not related to the recent hubbub over jail health care.

"I don't think it is," said Maj. J.J. Hogan, who was appointed last month as the sheriff's liaison and supervisor to Prison Health Services.

"She was here for nine years and I've been here for 26 and there's never been a health services administrator that's been here for that long. I don't know if she's in for bigger and better things."

Hogan said he was not told which facility Gebhardt was being moved to, or whether she was being promoted or demoted. A spokeswoman for Prison Health Services also declined to state where Gebhardt was going.

"All personnel matters are treated by the company as confidential," said Susan Morgenstern, spokeswoman for PHS.

The regional director for mental health for PHS, Dr. Dana Tatum, is serving in Gebhardt's stead as health services administrator for the time being, Hogan said.

Tatum's role will include managing the health care budget for the inmates, hiring and supervising staff members and coordinating on-site and off-site specialty health services, according to the PHS contract with Gwinnett County.

Both the Sheriff's Department and PHS came under scrutiny following the Oct. 17, 2005, death of a 43-year-old female inmate who was awaiting trial on a cocaine possession charge. Harriett Washington had previously been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia.

An internal investigation at the Sheriff's Department revealed Washington asked several times to be hospitalized in the days leading up to her death, but her pleadings were rebuffed by medical staff. Washington's cellmates and deputies who were in the housing unit said they witnessed Washington vomiting repeatedly, experiencing dizziness, acting delirious and having difficulty breathing.

She was taken to the jail's medical unit at least three times in the two days before her death, but none of her visits were documented as required, according to the internal investigation. Each time Washington was sent back to her cell as her health deteriorated.

After Washington died, five other inmates and a former PHS mental health counselor came forward to the Gwinnett Daily Post with other complaints about botched medications, lapses in medical documentation, patient neglect and staff indifference.

In the months that followed, at least four PHS employees that were on duty that night or were in supervisory positions have been fired, resigned, retired or transferred. PHS officials have said none of the staffing changes were a result of Washington's death or the subsequent complaints.

Sheriff Butch Conway also assigned Hogan to monitor PHS on a full-time basis beginning last month. At the time, Conway noted that his department pays Prison Health Services about $6 million a year to provide inmate health care and said, "I think we should have had a medical monitor before now" to keep an eye on the quality of work.