(SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif.) — The family of a California man with HIV has filed a lawsuit claiming that he wasn’t given access to the necessary medication they say he needed to treat his condition while in jail.
Nicholas Overfield, 39, was arrested in February 2022 and died several months later at a hospital in June after his family claimed he wasn’t given access to his prescribed antiretroviral medication to treat HIV during the two months he was detained at El Dorado County Jail, according to the complaint filed last week.
“My son shouldn’t have died,” said Lesley Overfield, Nicholas’ mother, in an interview with ABC News. “We’re angry. We want accountability for this.”
During his February arrest for his failure to appear in court over a burglary charge, Overfield “informed the arresting officers that he was HIV positive and would need his prescribed antiretroviral medication during his detention to ensure his HIV remained in check,” according to a complaint filed by his family.
Overfield’s health deteriorated while he was detained without access to his medication, according to the complaint. He was first transferred to Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, California, and was later transferred to a hospital in San Francisco for further treatment, the complaint says. He was eventually placed into hospice care, where he died, according to the complaint.
Lesley Overfield said her son lost his ability to speak coherently and walk while in custody at the jail, and she said she pleaded with jail employees for answers.
“When they brought him into the visiting area, they wheeled him in a wheelchair,” she said. “He was too weak to get up, so they had to help him out. And feed him at the visitor’s booths. He was so disoriented and confused. He couldn’t even figure out how to use the phone — which you don’t dial it. You just pick it up and put it to your ear. He was so weak. He couldn’t do that.”
The lawsuit claims Overfield was taken from the jail to Barton Memorial Hospital on April 23, 2022. While being treated at that hospital, the lawsuit alleges that one apparent medical record dated April 24, 2022, says a nurse writes that she “spoke with a jail nurse from El Dorado County Jail who reported that Nick ‘has not had access to his HIV medications since taken (sic) into custody in February.'”
ABC News has not seen the medical documents alleged in the complaint.
The cause of death on his official death certificate from the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency, which was reviewed by ABC News, is listed as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) in connection with the varicella-zoster virus. His other conditions — including his yearslong diagnoses of HIV and substance abuse — were also listed under cause of death on the death certificate. He began experiencing complications from varicella-zoster infection two months before his death, according to the death certificate.
According to the National Institutes of Health, antiretroviral medication — a combination of HIV medicine — “cannot cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.”
Overfield’s family is suing the jail and its contracted health care provider, Wellpath Community Care, LLC as well as the County of El Dorado.
WellPath has not yet responded to ABC News’ requests for comment. The County of El Dorado and the county sheriff’s office that runs the jail declined to comment on the allegations.
Wellpath is a national health care provider that provides care to almost 500 correctional facilities, jails, and prisons across the country. The organization said it serves roughly 275,000 patients in these facilities, according to its website.
Wellpath has been the defendant in several lawsuits concerning its care at these facilities, some of which have been settled. Allegations against the company has prompted criticism and concern from federal lawmakers.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Edward J. Markey, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, sent a letter last month to Wellpath raising concern over “reports of inadequate care at federal, state, and local prisons and jails.”
“While some contracts increase Wellpath’s compensation for emergency services such as ambulance runs or decrease compensation for failures such as not triaging sick call requests, pay generally does not increase with the volume, quality, or complexity of medical services provided,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Some Wellpath contracts also appear to incentivize the company to reduce the number of transfers to hospitals or to employ fewer staff members.”
In response to 2019 CNN investigation into Wellpath’s treatment of inmates, but not pertaining to Overfield’s case specifically, Wellpath told CNN in a statement that the company “is proud of the work it does … to provide high-quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients every year.”
Wellpath has continued to grow its reach in recent months, adding facilities in New Jersey, Minnesota and New York to its list of clients.
Overfield’s mother said she is seeking accountability and justice in her son’s death under the company’s care. She said she wants him to be remembered for his generous and kind personality.
“Nick was an all-around good guy; he had lots of friends. He was always willing to help anybody,” Lesley Overfield said.
She continued, that when he was still alive, “In the wintertime, I’d get up in the morning, and there’d be someone strange on the couch and I’d look at Nick and he’d say, ‘Hey, mom. It was hella cold. He had no place to go.’ He just wanted to help people.”
Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.