El Paso County blamed for jail death as health care provider concerns rise

The family of a woman who died in October is threatening to sue El Paso County and the jail’s health care provider for $5 million, saying she would still be alive if the facility’s staff hadn’t “abandoned her in the middle of a medical crisis.”

Susan Cespedes’ cries for help went unheeded in the weeks leading up to her death, even though the jail’s medical team was aware that she suffered from diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and other medical issues that could be deadly if untreated, her attorney said in a letter of claim that the county received last month.

"All this could have been prevented," her son Jonathan Cespedes told The Gazette. "She had so much more in life to give."

The threat of a multimillion dollar lawsuit comes as the Sheriff’s Office struggles to address lapses by its medical contractor that county officials say have subjected the jail’s inmates to “significant physical and psychological danger,” according to documents obtained by The Gazette.

A hepatitis A outbreak, which sheriff’s officials say infected four inmates at the jail, began when an Armor Correctional Health Services employee didn’t follow contagious disease protocols, the county informed the inmate medical contractor in an April 3 letter.

Practitioner vacancies have gone unfilled and staff members haven’t been showing up for work. In one instance, a mistake by a nurse left an inmate without prescribed medications for 10 days earlier this year, the county said in the letter, provided to The Gazette by the Sheriff’s Office. After positive tests for hepatitis A in March, the Sheriff’s Office worked with public health officials to administer more than 1,600 vaccinations to staff and inmates. The efforts cost nearly $100,000, according to the county’s letter.

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