NEW YORK CITY — Judy Jean Caquias began to vomit blood inside a Rikers Island jail weeks before her death — but rather than get her to a doctor, medical staff left her in her cell without help, according to a notice of claim filed by her sister.
Caquias, who was 61 at the time, became incoherent and disoriented — a result of toxins reaching her brain after liver failure — three weeks into her stay at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s facility at Rikers Island, according to the court papers.
Around May 28 or 29 of last year, Caquias stopped eating and did not leave her bed, according to court documents filed by Caquias' sister, Daria Widing. The next day, she began vomiting blood — but when Rikers medical staff visited her in her dormitory, she was too confused to be able to cooperate with them, court papers said. The medical staff said she was refusing medical aid and left, according to the lawsuit.
By the time Caquias' fellow Rikers inmates dressed her and took her to the infirmary a week later to demand help — with the aid of a correction officer — it was too late to save her life, the claim says.
Caquias was suffering from liver failure, according to Widing. On June 6, she was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where her heart stopped in the emergency room. She was bleeding internally, her lungs collapsed and she developed multiple infections, the claim says. Her kidneys began to fail.
Caquias died on June 25, after her heart stopped a second time and doctors obeyed the family's "do not resuscitate" order, the claim says.
Widing is now suing the city, saying her sister’s death was the result of negligent care on Riker’s Island. Corizon, the medical care provider that holds the city contract, failed to diagnose or treat her liver disease, leaving her to die, she says.
Widing requested her sister's medical records from Rikers Island in October 2014 and got them in December, the claim says. The records showed that Caquias was given inadequate medical care at the jail, leading to her death, according to documents.
“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, any death of an inmate while in custody is a tragedy," a Department of Corrections spokesman said in a statement.
Corizon representatives declined to comment on the details of Caquias' case, saying, "state and federal law prohibit Corizon Health from specifically commenting on an individual patient’s healthcare and medical treatment."
“As healthcare providers, we are deeply saddened by any death or negative medical outcome," Corizon added in a statement, "We consider it our mission to care for our patients as we would our own family — with integrity and respect — and to deliver the very best treatment."
Caquias’ case is one of many in which inmates were forced to advocate for medical aid for their dying neighbors.
Inmate Mark Johnson died of internal bleeding at the age of 32 in May 2013, after medical staff refused to see him until fellow inmates staged a hunger strike to demand he get care.
Inmates Victor Woods, Rolando Perez and Jerome Murdough also died at Rikers last year amid evidence that their deaths were caused by sub-standard or egregious lack of medical treatment. There have been at least a dozen such cases since 2009 in addition to at least nine suicides attributed to inadequate mental health care.
The health department, which oversees Rikers medical care and chooses Corizon for the job, has said it is considering replacing healthcare provider Corizon with the city’s public Health and Hospitals Corporation when Corizon’s contract runs out in December.
Widing and the Department of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.