Inmate dies from blood infection

LAWRENCEVILLE - Almost 146 inmates and 23 deputies or staff members at the Gwinnett County Detention Center are being treated with antibiotics following the death of an inmate from a blood infection.

Inmate Zachary Harris, 20, was admitted to Gwinnett Medical Center Thursday with complaints of a sore throat and dangerously low blood pressure. He was treated for what doctors believed was strep throat, but died Saturday from septic shock, said Stacey Kelley, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department.

Because a bacteria known to cause meningitis was found in Harris' blood stream, jail administrators consulted with the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials reached a consensus to treat with antibiotics all 145 detainees who were housed in the same unit as Harris and may have had contact with him. Twenty-three deputies or health care staff from Prison Health Services, the contracted medical provider for the jail, were also given antibiotics. The inmates and employees received four doses beginning six hours after Harris' death.

"Prison Health Services did an outstanding job of handling this," said Kelley. "They were on top of handling it."

Harris had been incarcerated for a year awaiting trial on charges of impersonating a police officer, drug possession, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and possession of an open container of alcohol, jail records show.

His death comes about six months after the Sheriff's Department and Prison Health Services came under scrutiny following the Oct. 17 death of a female inmate who was awaiting trial on a cocaine possession charge. Harriett Washington, 43, 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 requests were rebuffed by medical staff.

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 who were on duty that night or were in supervisory positions have been fired, resigned, retired or transferred.

In response to the flap over jail health care, Maj. J.J. Hogan, a veteran with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department, was assigned in March to oversee PHS full-time.