September 16, 2019

County jail returning to normal after pneumonia kills inmate

BANGOR – Operations at the Penobscot County Jail, including visits to inmates, are expected to return to some normalcy today while jail officials continue to investigate the death of an inmate from pneumonia last week.

The death of Jason Shank, 22, of Bangor on Dec. 23 at a local hospital prompted substantial restrictions at the jail.

“We feel we’re safe now,” Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Tuesday, noting that the incubation period for new cases of bacterial pneumonia had passed with no new cases reported.

Convinced that the worst is over, Ross said that noncontact inmate visits were to resume Tuesday night with some health-related modifications and that contact visitations were scheduled to resume Saturday. Extra sanitary precautions will be taken, he said. Such precautions will include sanitizing areas where visitations are held.

Church services will resume Sunday, although all other volunteer programs, such as literacy education, anger management and substance abuse, won’t restart until next Monday.

Meanwhile, some people questioned whether more should have been done to treat Shank who died at St. Joseph Hospital from bacterial pneumonia that is believed to have been a complication of the flu. Ross said Shank, who was serving a 364-day sentence for theft and refusing to submit to arrest, had been seen and treated by a nurse the weekend before he died and was hospitalized Dec. 22 when a family member called the jail to express concern about Shank’s condition.

The worst of the pneumonia came on quickly, something Ross said is supported by comments by the State Bureau of Health that reported last week that several of the flu-related deaths of young people in other states were marked by sudden onset of bacterial pneumonia.

But Robert Wiley isn’t convinced enough was done. Wiley knew Shank and had seen him on Dec. 21 when he visited his ex-wife who was also in the jail. He described Shank’s condition as “unbelievable.”

Usually active and talkative, Shank was weak, coughing and spitting up a fluid as he sat with his fiancee, mother and stepfather, Wiley said Tuesday. Shank could barely manage a smile and even though the visits meant much to Shank, he cut short the hour visitation, by about 25 minutes Wiley said.

“If I went home and saw one of my kids that sick I’d take him to the hospital immediately,” said Wiley, who has four children from 4 to 23 years old.

Jail officials should have taken Shank to the hospital right then and there, Wiley argued, although Shank returned to his cot to rest.

“I saw the kid when he could have been saved,” Wiley said.

The next day, Monday, Dec. 22, Shank called his fiancee and told her he didn’t feel well. She in turn contacted Shank’s family in South China. Ross said the stepfather called the jail at 5:30 p.m. Monday and that corrections officers and then the nurse checked on him, with the nurse making the decision to hospitalize Shank.

In the wake of the illness, Ross said any inmates with flulike symptoms were restricted to certain areas, separate from other inmates. Six inmates were treated for flu symptoms and about half the nearly 150 inmates took preventative medications.

Corrections officers were also given flu shots and took preventative measures while the jail sought to reduce any new exposures.

Local police departments were asked to only bring suspects into the jail if they posed a danger to society or if they couldn’t make bail. Otherwise, suspects were summoned or bailed from local police departments. Acceptance of new arrests was expected to resume tonight, the Sheriff said. The start of jail sentences for some convictions were delayed until next week.

Penobscot County Commissioners credited corrections officers for performing their duties under a difficult situation and Ross said that if many jail employees had called in sick it would have resulted in a “crisis of tremendous magnitude.”

Wiley said his wife was transferred to the Windham Correction Center a day after Shank died even though she complained of feeling ill. An official at that prison said Tuesday she couldn’t comment on specific inmates but did say the Windham facility had been prepared for an inmate transfer from Penobscot County Jail.

More than 300 inmates in Windham have been given flu shots, according to a corrections official there. As of Tuesday there were no reports of flu.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Paryse Thibodeau in the prison superintendent’s office.

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