Okla. county jail's medical provider threatens to leave after hostage incident

Turn Key Health gave the jail trust a one-month deadline to increase the number of detention officers at the overcrowded 13-story facility

By Nolan Clay
The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY — Two days after a detention officer was held hostage at the Oklahoma County jail, the company that provides healthcare services for inmates there is threatening to leave.

Turn Key Health gave the jail trust a one-month deadline to increase the number of detention officers at the overcrowded 13-story facility just west of downtown Oklahoma City.

"We are giving the jail until April 29, 2021, to increase its staffing levels to ensure we are able to have detention staff available to complete medication pass and fulfill our other obligations under the Contract, and to ensure adequate detention staff is available to maintain the safety and security of our employees," CEO Flint Junod wrote in a notice sent Monday to the jail administrator.

"If the jail does not cure these material defects by the ... deadline, we will have no choice but to terminate our contract for cause effective May 31," he wrote.

The jail trust chair, Tricia Everest, said Monday that steps have already been taken to increase staffing.

"The safety of all of our vendors and our staff and those detained is paramount," she said. "We have a staffing problem. It's critical. We appreciate Turn Key's service."

She said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reached out over the weekend to help as it did last year because of the pandemic.

"In recognition of the possible danger we're putting our staff and vendors in, one of the initial steps was bringing in support services from the Department of Corrections," she said. "From what I understand, they started mid-morning and another shift went in at 5 o'clock."

Turn Key operates clinics in dozens of lockup facilities in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado. It is under contract to be paid close to $7 million this fiscal year for its work at the Oklahoma County jail.

The company is based in Oklahoma City and was co-founded by Jon Echols, a state representative. At times over the last year, Echols has come to the jail himself to accompany nurses as they provide medication to inmates.

On Saturday, a detention officer was held hostage after going alone to the jail's 10th floor, authorities said. The officer was rescued after Oklahoma City police shot an inmate.

"It's never been so understaffed," Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Sunday about the jail. "It's never been so corrupt and it's never been so dangerous."

The inmate, Curtis Montrell Williams, 34, had been locked up almost two years, awaiting trial on a 2019 rape charge and a 2019 gun charge.

He was charged twice more last year with possession of contraband — a makeshift metal weapon — by an inmate. He was charged in February with assault and battery upon a detention officer.

The inmate's mother, Rhonda Lambert, said Monday her son was trying to bring "badly needed" changes to the jail.

"My son did not have to die," she said. "My son never intended to hurt the jailer."


(c)2021 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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