Breaking News
More () »

ACLU calls on city to end jail health contract

The message from community leaders come after 12 deaths at the downtown jail in less than a year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the midst of a news conference addressing health care concerns at Louisville's downtown jail, community leaders learned of the latest death inside the facility. 

According to jail officials, Bashar Ghazawi, who had just been convicted for the 2018 shooting death of his wife, was found unconscious around 7 p.m. Monday.

Jail staff conducted life-saving measures on Ghazawi and emergency medical services were then called. Metro Corrections believes Ghazawi’s death is drug overdose related. 

Tuesday, leaders from the ACLU of Kentucky reacted to the news, which marks the 12th inmate death at LMDC since November of 2021. 

"These are human beings, regardless of what he or she has done," ACLU policy strategist Kungu Njuguna said. "They're worthy of dignity and respect they're not getting this inside this facility." 

The ACLU had gathered with activists from Black Lives Matter and Louisville Standing Up for Racial Justice to call on the city to cancel the jail's contract with Wellpath

The company provides physical and mental healthcare services inside the jail, and those who came to speak Tuesday said the company isn't doing an adequate job. 

“They’re supposed to be giving mental health to those incarcerated clearly they aren’t being proactive or we wouldn’t be seeing the number of suicides," Njuguna said.

Credit: WHAS-TV
A group of individuals from the ACLU gather outside of Metro Corrections to call on city leaders to end the contract with the jail. Twelve inmates have died at the facility since Nov. 2021.

Chanelle Helm with Black Lives Matter said withholding of medication, ignoring health requests and timely assessments have been problems reported by people incarcerated at LMDC. 

"They need immediate attention and that’s not happening," Helm said. “The local government has failed point blank and period.”

Harriet Rankin, who was formerly incarcerated at LMDC and struggled with addiction, said conditions inside the facility are dire.

“We should not have to die in there because we made bad choices in our lives," she said. “They need more people down there, they need more mental health care, they need supplies.”

The organizations called for the city to cancel Wellpath's contract and hire community based organizations already working in healthcare. They argue those groups will provide more impactful services and prevent further in-custody deaths. 

“These non-profits go and beg Metro Council every year for every nickel and a dime they could get, where millions of dollars go into here," Helm said.

In a statement, Major Darrell Goodlett from LMDC wrote: "The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is committed to working with vendors who will provide the best possible services to the population we are responsible for. Considering recent deaths at Metro Corrections, we understand the ACLU's concerns with the contract for medical and mental health services that Metro Corrections has with Wellpath. Like all vendors, Wellpath's ability to meet the needs of the incarcerated population is reviewed regularly. Director Collins is working closely with community stakeholders and Wellpath to provide healthcare and mental health services that are designed to meet the changing needs of people in our care. Special attention is being given to the areas of mental health services and substance use disorder. For the first time in several years, both a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a psychiatrist both see patients at LMDC. Also, Metro Corrections, Wellpath, and the MORE Center have partnered to provide medication assisted treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorder. Director Collins meets regularly with community stakeholders, including the ACLU, and is looking forward to a continued dialogue." 

In a statement, Wellpath Senior Vice President Teresa Koeberlein wrote: “Wellpath holds patients at the center of everything we do. Our company promotes rigorous standards of care, nurtures innovation, and values compassionate service. We are always striving to improve the care we bring to our patients.Correctional healthcare is a unique clinical environment most akin to emergency rooms. Our staff usually has no prior provider relationship with their patients, and so our goals are to quickly assess a patient’s health status and develop diagnoses. In so doing, we work with a wide range of partners to connect our patients with the care they need. Many of our patients may be diagnosed with an acute or chronic disease process for the first time under our care; many have been previously untreated for such conditions for an extended period before our first contact with them. These factors make them more difficult to treat, and we are proud of the way that our dedicated team of caregivers perform under these trying conditions. Respectful of our patients’ privacy needs, and mindful of State and Federal healthcare confidentiality laws/regulations, we cannot speak to individual incidents of care, but we do not believe the claims allegedly advanced by the ACLU have merit.”

Metro Council President David James said he thinks a reassessment of contracts at LMDC would be positive. 

“I think its very important that inside the jail the residents have quality care and it’s a proactive approach to health care," he said. 

James noted ultimately, the decision would be up to the Mayor's Office. 

In a statement from the Mayor's Office, spokesperson Jessica Wethington wrote: "We prioritize the life of every incarcerated individual, and we remain committed to exploring all options to keep our employees and our incarcerated population safe, including working with community organizations and our justice partners. As with all Louisville Metro Government agencies, Metro Corrections continuously evaluates its relationships with contractors and seeks the best possible services for the residents of Louisville." 

Wellpath has not yet responded to WHAS11's request for comment as of this article. 

Contact reporter Grace McKenna at GMcKenna@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter.  

Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. For Apple or Android users.  

Have a news tip? Email assign@whas11.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed 

Before You Leave, Check This Out