Herkimer County and Little Falls Hospital agreed to settle for $500,000 Tuesday in connection to the 2006 death of an inmate at the county jail who overdosed after being prescribed a dangerous level of medication.
After only three witnesses testified in a federal trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court, a settlement was reached by the county and the hospital to pay $250,000 each to the estate of Michael DiCamillo, which is represented by his brother Matthew Gabriel.
Among the defendants was nurse practitioner Charlene Macri, an employee of Little Falls Hospital at the time who had been contracted to do medical care at the jail while DiCamillo was incarcerated.
She is now working directly for Herkimer County as a nurse practitioner at the jail.
Although a report by the state Commission of Correction concluded in 2007 DiCamillo’s drug-related death was partly the result of jail medical staff who failed to recognize signs of medication overdose, Herkimer County Sheriff Christopher Farber on Tuesday said the settlement did not require anybody to admit any wrongdoing. Farber, however, would not say whether any lessons were learned or policies changed at the jail as a result of DiCamillo’s death.
“We’re always changing policy and procedures, but the case was basically resolved during trial without any finding of any wrongdoing by any of the parties,” Farber said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We learn lessons everyday. We find things that we could do better that we change on our own, but until our attorneys are done with everything, I’m done commenting.”
According to the state Commission of Correction, DiCamillo, 38, of Utica, died June 30, 2006, while incarcerated at the jail as a result of heart complications caused by toxic levels of the antidepressant Venlafaxine. In their findings, the commission attributes DiCamillo’s death to a community psychiatrist — who is not identified by name — who prescribed a dangerous level of medication and then failed to adequately monitor his use. As far as Herkimer County is concerned, the commission also states “DiCamillo’s death could have been prevented had proper medical intervention been provided when he began showing signs of acute intoxication” while he was jailed.
Neither Gabriel’s attorney, Elmer Keach III, nor the attorneys for Herkimer County and Macri — Thomas Murphy and Joseph Perkins, respectively — could be reached for comment Tuesday.
The case was heard by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd.
DiCamillo — who had a history of health problems and a lengthy list of prescribed medications — was first incarcerated at the county jail on June 23, 2006, after being charged with resisting arrest. Signs of drug intoxication soon became apparent in the seven days leading up to DiCamillo’s death, court documents state. He would sweat profusely and could barely keep his eyes open while sitting on the floor, the lawsuit states. Other times he couldn’t walk and would fall down, with occasional drooling, loss of consciousness and confusion. His drug intoxication was further compounded, the lawsuit states, as jail personnel failed to give DiCamillo his medication at proper intervals and instead forced him to take all of his medication at one time, once a day.
Page 2 of 2 - Several hours before DiCamillo died, he attempted to get up that morning and fell, documents state. A correction officer informed Macri of this incident, but instead of directly evaluating DiCamillo she ordered that one of his medications be discontinued until further notice.
“Correction officers are not qualified to perform such assessments and cannot interpret medical data for a qualified clinician,” the commission’s 2007 report states.
By 3:55 p.m. that day, a correction found DiCamillo lying dead on the floor of his cell.
In its final recommendations, the commission suggested the sheriff’s office “immediately discontinue” the practice of using officers to conduct medical assessments and interpretations that only registered nurses are permitted to do.
The commission also suggested the state Department of Health investigate the community psychiatrist who treated DiCamillo before he was incarcerated.
Finally, the commission recommended the state Education Department’s Office of Professional Discipline investigate the nurses who failed to make the jail’s physician aware of DiCamillo’s many prescriptions and who failed to recognize DiCamillo’s obvious signs of drug intoxication.