Allegations Of Substandard Care Span Decades At Valley Street Jail

May 3, 2016

Credit Credit mikecogh via Flickr Creative Commons

The emergency suspension of a physician who oversees the medical needs of more than 200 inmates in Hillsborough County comes after the state Board of Medicine received numerous complaints of substandard care at Valley Street Jail. 

But well before the board launched an investigation into allegations that Matthew Masewic had failed to provide adequate treatment, attorneys for former inmates say medical care at the jail was a problem long before he arrived seven years ago.

Attorney Larry Vogelman, who is representing three former inmates whose treatment is outlined in the board's emergency order, said he receives at least six letters a week from New Hampshire inmates. “I get more complaints about medical care at Valley Street than the other prisons and jails combined, by probably threefold,” he said.

Masewic's Suspension

The emergency order issued by the board Tuesday prohibits Masewic from practicing at Valley Street for 120 days, pending the outcome of the investigation. 

Some of the complaints detailed by the board have already been the subject of litigation at the U.S. District Court in Concord, where Masewic has been named in nine lawsuits over the last six years. 

One lawsuit, described in the board’s order, involved a woman who was 30 weeks pregnant when she was arrested in December 2014.

“While being processed at Rockingham County Jail it was noticed there was blood on her underwear," according to the suit. "As a result, she was taken to Exeter Hospital for evaluation. She was monitored there for six hours. Fetal assessment was normal. An infected cyst was identified on plaintiff.”

According to the lawsuit, after receiving a prescription for an antibiotic the woman - identified in the Board's order as A.K. - was transported to Valley Street Jail. During intake, a nurse noticed A.K. had been prescribed antibiotics and notified Masewic, who, according to the lawsuit, declined to provide it. "MD called – wants more information," the nurse noted. "Does not want to order Clindamycin at this time….'”

In late December, A.K. complained of decreased fetal movement. On December 29, she complained of abdominal pain. Later that day, she delivered a stillborn baby girl on the floor of the lobby at Valley Street Jail.  An autopsy showed that the infant died of an infection transmitted "via the umbilical cord from the infected A.K..”

Oversight

Masewic's contract with Valley Street Jail is with the Hillsborough County Commissioners, not with the jail, said jail superintendent David Dionne, who says he has no authority over the physician or his treatment of the inmates. 

"I know that there have been complaints from inmates with regards to Dr. Masewic," said Dionne, who added that he hopes the board's investigation finds that no inmates have been harmed. 

Commissioner Sandra Ziehm told NHPR she has "no reason to believe that anybody was ever at jeopardy." Ziehm wouldn't say whether she knew of the ongoing litigation against Masewic, adding “nobody ever approached me and complained to me.”

Decades of Allegations

But Vogelman says, county commissioners have been indifferent to complaints about substandard treatment at the jail for years.

Vogelman said poor treatment at the facility dates back to at least the early 1990s. Dr. Charles Ward, who treated inmates at Valley Street for over a decade, was known to refuse treatment to people with mental health problems. During his tenure at the jail, Ward was named in more than two dozen lawsuits before the county decided not to renew his contract. 

Today, Vogelman represents three people named in the board's emergency order, including A.K. He has also filed a handful of other cases against Masewic, most of which ended with confidential settlements.

In 2013, the Union Leader reported that Hillsborough County had paid almost a million dollars in settlements for jail medical cases over five years. 

Few Doctors Want Jobs In Jails

Masewic, who is 47, graduated from St. George’s Medical School in Grenada, and did his residency at Concord Hospital. 

In 2009, two years after his primary care practice in Concord declared bankruptcy, Masewic agreed to a contract with Hillsborough County to work four hours a day, two days a week at the jail and to be on call 24 hours a day. Most of his orders are carried out by about 20 nurses who work for the jail.

Masewic’s contract with the jail ends in June. County commissioners have issued a request for proposals, but received just one bid. Dionne, the superintendent said, said doctors and insurance companies are reluctant to work with jails because of the cost.

"If this continues this way, I don’t know if we’ll have any doctors in jails and prisons,” he said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Masewic referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment.