Georgia prison doctor under review following critical reports

A Georgia prison doctor linked to the questionable deaths of at least nine female inmates has been placed on administrative leave pending a review of his conduct, his employer, Georgia Regents University, acknowledged Thursday.

The review of Dr. Yvon Nazaire follows Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigations detailing how, since he was hired in 2006, women in his care have died agonizing deaths without receiving treatment that could have saved or prolonged their lives.

“I think it’s past due,” said Dave Hurd, whose sister-in-law, Peggy Bean, died at Pulaski State Prison in 2010 after she spent days vomiting feces because of a lack of blood supply to her intestines. “I think they should have done a review on him a long time ago.”

Christen Carter, Georgia Regents University’s associate vice president for news and publications, disclosed the review in an email to the AJC. She said she could not provide further details such as who would be conducting it.

A Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Lisa Rodriguez-Presley, referred all comment regarding Nazaire to Georgia Regents University “because he’s employed by them.”

Nazaire and other physicians working in Georgia’s public prisons are employees of Georgia Correctional Health Care, a branch of the university the provides personnel for the prison medical units under a contract with the Department of Corrections.

Billy Nichols, the medical director for Georgia Correctional Health Care, declined comment, telling a reporter that information could only be provided through an open records request.

Nazaire did not respond to a voice mail message from the AJC Thursday.

According to a source at Pulaski, Nazaire did not show up for work Wednesday. That morning, staff at the sprawling facility in Hawkinsville were told that the doctor had been suspended, the source said. The source requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

The AJC reported Sunday that at least 20 women have died at Pulaski since Nazaire was hired to direct the medical unit there in September 2006 despite a history of negligence in New York. Fifteen died in custody and another five died shortly after being transferred or released because of their illnesses.

Some of the 20 deaths were apparently the inevitable result of disease, but at least seven occurred under questionable circumstances in which cancer, pneumonia and other serious conditions were misdiagnosed or ignored, the newspaper found.

The AJC also revealed Sunday that the application Nazaire submitted when he was hired stated that he was working as a physician in the emergency rooms of three New York hospitals when in fact he was unemployed.

In March, the AJC detailed how two inmates at Emanuel Women’s Facility in Swainsboro died after their symptoms went untreated for weeks when Nazaire briefly had oversight for that facility’s medical unit in 2011.

In a phone interview with the newspaper in June, Nazaire strongly denied that women in his care have received inadequate treatment.

“I’m a Christian,” he said. “The same thing I would do for my wife, my family, I would do for my brothers and sisters in prison.”

Nazaire’s superiors at Georgia Correctional Health Care have consistently given him positive performance reviews, often citing his willingness to rein in costs through limiting outside consultations and other means. His most recent evaluation, completed in June, called him “very important to the successful delivery of health care to the inmate population.”

Nazaire, 59, was hired by Georgia Correctional Health Care after a 20-year career as a physician in New York that included four malpractice suits over patient deaths and a probation imposed by that state’s medical board.

A ruling by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct in December 2004 cited Nazaire for gross negligence in his treatment of five ER patients, one of whom died. The patient who died was a 28-year-old man who suffered a heart attack a day after Nazaire sent him home with antihistamines.

The New York board’s order required that Nazaire’s practice be closely monitored throughout a three-year probationary period, but the Georgia Composite Medical Board granted him a license without restriction. Board officials have declined to explain the decision, which departed from the usual policy when physicians under sanction in other states seek licensure here.

In a self-published book detailing how he rejected “carnality” and became a Christian, Nazaire wrote that he was dealing with professional and financial crises in New York when an “invisible protector” told him to apply for a Georgia medical license even though he had no ties to the state.

After obtaining the license, Nazaire wrote, he called a clerk with the medical board to find out about available jobs in the state. The clerk put him in touch with a physician, who in turn suggested an employment agency that was listing the prison job, he wrote.

“I packed my bags, left for Georgia and started a solitary life in a hotel room,” he wrote. “That’s where my transformation began.”

Dr. Edward Bailey, who was Georgia Correctional Health Care’s medical director at the time, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the AJC regarding how Nazaire was vetted.

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