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Judge dismisses suit over Westmoreland jail firing

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone Tuesday approved a joint motion dismissing an Irwin woman's lawsuit claiming that the former private health contractor for Westmoreland County Prison fired her to cover up the alleged mishandling of narcotics and other drugs at the jail.

The motion, filed Friday by attorneys for Cynthia Schade, 54, and NaphCare Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., and three company executives, does not provide details of the settlement.

Attorneys for either side could not be reached for comment. Kemberly English, a spokeswoman for Naphcare, did not respond to a request for comment. NaphCare no longer provides health care for the prison.

In her lawsuit, Schade said she was fired after she complained to her superiors that narcotics were not stored properly at the prison and were not locked up. She sued for wrongful discharge, defamation, breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation.

Schade was hired in 2011 as the prison health services administrator. When she took over, she found that safeguards for handling drugs were haphazard and that prescription drug bottles were kept in unlocked desk drawers or sat openly on shelves in the nursing station, the lawsuit states.

Drugs confiscated from incoming inmates were not recorded or kept secure, she claimed. Schade said inmates were receiving expired medications and were administered drugs prescribed for inmates who had been released and for other inmates still in jail. Nurses changed the dosages of the medications without consulting physicians, the suit said.

She claimed that licensed practical nurses were performing nursing duties that exceeded the limits of their licenses.

When she brought the problems to the attention of company officials, she claimed in the lawsuit, she was first reprimanded and then fired in retaliation for exposing the problem.

The county prison board last year conducted an internal investigation after narcotics and other medications disappeared from a nurse's cart while they were being dispensed to prisoners. No one was charged in the incident, but two nurses working for NaphCare were not allowed to return to the prison.

Schade's lawsuit is the third to be settled by NaphCare.

The lawsuit filed by the estate of an inmate who committed suicide in prison was settled in federal court in January, according to court records.

A suit settled in 2011 involved a 23-year-old North Huntingdon man who died of acute heroin withdrawal after he was taken to the prison.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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