Okla. county jail medical provider staying put after threatening to leave

Turn Key Health's CEO said improvements had been made, including the jail administrator's efforts to address detention staffing shortages


By Nolan Clay
The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY — The company that provides healthcare to inmates at the Oklahoma County jail has backed away from its threat to leave because of security concerns.

Turn Key Health on March 29 told the jail's administrator "we will have no choice but to terminate our contract for cause effective May 31" unless more detention officers were hired.

The notice was sent two days after an inmate held a detention officer hostage on the jail's 10th floor.

On April 8, Turn Key Health's CEO, Flint Junod, wrote improvements had been made.

He thanked the jail administrator for "your willingness and sincere efforts over the past week to address the detention staffing shortages."

"Although we still acknowledge the need for additional detention staffing, the strategic planning we are working on together gives us assurance that our expectations will be met," Junod wrote. "At this time, we do not foresee the need to exercise the termination clause ... if the progress we have seen ... continues."

An announcement that the medical provider was staying put was made Tuesday by the public trust that operates the jail.

"The leadership team will continue to coordinate with our partners methods to improve efficiency and safety in service," the trust's chair, Tricia Everest, said. "We appreciate Turn Key and are committed to continue to work with them."

That good news was offset Tuesday night by more bad news for the trust, another inmate death.

The female inmate died about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, possibly of natural causes, despite lifesaving efforts, according to a news release.

"Foul play and suicide are not indicated" in the initial investigation into the incident, the trust reported.

The latest inmate death is the 11th since the trust took over operation of the 13-story facility from the sheriff's office July 1.

That death toll includes suicides, a fatal beating and the police shooting of the hostage taker. It also includes inmates who died last year from complications from COVID-19.

The inmate who died Tuesday had been in jail almost a year. Christa Sullivan, 65, was arrested April 27 in Oklahoma City after her husband told police she stabbed him with a knife, according to court records.

A judge on March 8 ordered her sent to a state mental facility in Vinita for treatment. Why she had not been moved before her death was not immediately clear.

District Judge Ray C. Elliott issued the commitment order after a state psychologist reported she was experience auditory hallucinations and could not rationally assist her attorney in her defense.

The trust reported she was on suicide watch at the jail.

The jail's medical staff began "lifesaving measures" Tuesday night when an officer observed "a sudden drooping of her arm," the trust said in the news release. Emergency personnel from an ambulance service and the Oklahoma City Fire Department took over after arriving at the jail.

The trust also said in the news release that she "had an extensive history of both physical and mental health issues."

"Due to the effects of these issues, the detainee had experienced extreme aversion to self-care and suicidal ideations, as well as a number of physical incidents causing hospitalization. A prior attempt to obtain a medical release of the detainee due to her extreme medical decline was unsuccessful."

Court records show her defense attorney withdrew the request for the medical release at a hearing in July.

Prosecutors had opposed her release, arguing she was a danger to the community because of her mental state. They told the judge she had said to police during a disturbance last year that she had gone to a store "to kill somebody today."

In a statement Wednesday about the latest death, Rep. Jason Lowe criticized "what is taking place in facilities across our state, especially at the Oklahoma County jail."

The Oklahoma City Democrat called conditions unacceptable and said they must change.

"Our correctional facilities have an obligation to keep the people in their care safe and alive," Lowe said. "In all cases, healthcare should be prioritized — especially mental healthcare.

"Many of these people are innocent and awaiting trial, and even if they aren't, the way we treat people in our care speaks to who we are as people.

"I ask our citizens to hold elected leaders at all levels accountable for the damage these poor conditions and lack of immediate medical care in correctional facilities across the state are causing to our communities."

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(c)2021 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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