I-TEAM: A look at past incidents with jail health care provider

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 7:06 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - From allegations of overcrowding to questions about medical oversight of some inmates, improvements at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center have been a growing project over the years.

The biggest change may come from a new medical provider.

The matter was discussed Tuesday at committee meetings of the Augusta Commission. Since December 2010, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has been contracting Correct Care Solutions, now known as Wellpath, as the jail medical provider.

Augusta’s Public Safety Committee unanimously voted to approve a new three-year medical contract with Vital-core Health Strategies with an option to renew for two years after.


This ends more than a decade-long streak with WellPath, and while commissioners couldn’t give an answer as to why this didn’t happen sooner, they say they’re excited about the change.

“These inmates, they’re out there, and they’ve done wrong, and they’ve done this. But at the end of the day, everybody’s health counts. Good, bad, we have to take care of them,” said Catherine Smith-McKnight, Chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

The first year of the new contract is a bit of an increase from WellPath at more than $6.5 million, but the new provider says it adds a few more full-time staff.

Most of the inmates at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center haven’t even been to trial to fight their case, but the I-TEAM found some are fighting another battle- the battle for medical attention.

We first started investigating WellPath after a family asked for help getting answers in a homicide at the jail.

Instead, we uncovered the young father was having a medical crisis but was accused of faking his symptoms. Then another family came forward.

A mother was accused of faking her illness, too.

In both cases, the jailers and medical staff were dead wrong.

It can’t bring Ashley Asuncion or Lendon Stephens back, but maybe major changes in medical care at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center could save others.

“If it happened one time, I’d maybe understand it, but we don’t understand how it just keeps happening in the same place,” said Les Lamb.

The two families have never met, but they are handcuffed to a similar heartbreak.

It started when the I-TEAM spent weeks combing through Lendon Stephen’s case file and found evidence of a brain injury throughout the file. The night he died; a deputy accused him of faking a seizure.

Cellmate: “He’s turning purple, bro!”

Instead of him getting medical attention, he was sent to another cell to await a disciplinary hearing.

From there, documents show he’s unresponsive and then able to sit up.

Nurses note a knot on his head and then hours of strange behavior.

He eventually dies alone in a cell with no drugs or alcohol in his system.

Ashley Asuncion’s file was equally eye-opening.

Deputies made notes in their logs about her being sick and not looking well.

The I-TEAM counted 14 medical staff members who came in contact with her as she cried out in pain for four days.

When the ambulance arrived, she was almost gone.

Asuncion died at the hospital of peritonitis.

That’s the same stomach infection that killed another woman at that same jail.

In 2019, Correct Care, WellPath’s former company name, settled a lawsuit with the family of Debra Leverett, who also got help too late for an inflamed abdomen.

The similarities don’t stop there.

According to the federal lawsuit, Leverett also told her mother, “I’ll die if I don’t get out of here.” Leverett was later found lifeless in her cell.

As for Stephens’s family, they hoped telling his story would help others.

“I think other people are going through the same thing, but they just don’t have a person like you, a person that I thank you so much,” said said Rebecca Stephens. “It’s a start.”