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Law Office of Sharon M Hanlon, PA
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Attorneys Ted Zelman & Sharon Hanlon

Mother of unborn baby that died in jail plans to sue medical provider

7:46 p.m., Friday, February 6, 2009

NAPLES – The pregnant woman who lost her unborn baby inside the Collier County jail hired an attorney Friday and plans to file a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit.

Collier County Sheriff’s officials, meanwhile, issued a statement defending 22-year-old Joan Laurel Small’s care while in the jail, listing 190 times over 128 days she’d been seen by its provider, Prison Health Services, and medical personnel since early in her pregnancy. Citing HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, sheriff’s officials said they cannot comment on many specifics in Small’s case.

“What we are able to say is that there is nothing in our records that shows Ms. Small was leaking amniotic fluid, and nothing in the records that indicates Ms. Small was having a problem with her pregnancy,” the statement says. … The Sheriff’s Office “remains sympathetic to Ms. Small for the loss of her child, and we offer our condolences.”

Naples attorney Sharon Hanlon of Zelman and Hanlon met with Small in her room at The Birth Place at North Naples Hospital and will be representing Small with law partner Ted Zelman. He said the family declines comment until next week.

During an interview Tuesday, Small said she learned through an ultrasound at the jail Tuesday morning that her full-term baby had died after all her amniotic fluid leaked out and the baby’s skull had collapsed.

Small had been jailed since Dec. 22 for a probation curfew violation. She said Tuesday that she had complained about a heavy discharge and asked for medical help, but was told to monitor the discharge. She said it continued for 1 1/2 weeks, but nothing was done.

By Tuesday evening, Small still sat in jail and had not been taken to a hospital to have the dead baby delivered. Her attorney had to seek her release the next day. Her dead baby, Elena Laurel, was delivered Thursday morning and will undergo an autopsy.

Sheriff’s officials say the first time she was seen by an obstetrician was while she was in jail. Small’s 40-week due date was Feb. 21 and the Bonita Springs woman has said she’d been seeing doctors at a clinic during her pregnancy.

Prison Health Services, a private firm that provides care to jails and prisons nationwide, has defended its care and sheriff’s officials called it appropriate and consistent with National Commission for Correctional Health Care accreditation standards.

Since June 11, sheriff’s officials said, Small had been in the jail’s custody on three separate occasions totaling 128 days. During that time, they said she had numerous interactions with medical professionals, including: 13 contacts with a certified nurse’s assistant; 128 contacts with a licensed practical nurse; 40 contacts with a registered nurse; three appointments with a physician’s assistant; and six appointments with a medical doctor.

The statement says the Sheriff’s Office and Prison Health Services arranged for and delivered Small to the necessary medical care outside the jail. “In fact, upon her release, CCSO made arrangements for Ms. Small’s continued medical care and transported her to North Naples Hospital.”

Small remained jailed Wednesday, her dead fetus inside her, and wasn’t taken to a hospital until her public defender, Amy Shirvanipour, got a stipulation from the prosecutor to have her sentence modified to time served so she could be immediately released; a judge immediately signed that stipulation Wednesday. Shirvanipour arranged for Small to be brought to the hospital, but the jail refused to release her to Shirvanipour, who waited more than three hours and had to meet Small at the hospital after her 3:10 p.m. release.

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