Family seeks change after Rikers inmate dies from cancer while in custody

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- An inmate awaiting trial on murder charges died in April, after months of requesting outside medical treatment for cancer, his family said.

Alvin Nelson III, 38, begged medical personnel at the George Motchan Detention Center for months to be moved to Bellevue to treat severe chest and shoulder pains.

“They gave him some pills and stuff and they wasn’t helping,” said his mother Atlee Swanson, 59.

She said for four months her son complained to Rikers medical staff about chills, a high fever and difficulty breathing.

“When he sneezed, he was bleeding,” Swanson said.

Swanson said her son’s requests to be hospitalized were ignored.

“They sat there and watched him die. They probably should have pulled the trigger themselves,” Swanson said.

Nelson’s cries for help were eventually answered at Bellevue, where doctors diagnosed him with Stage 4 terminal cancer.

“They found a lot of lesions to liver and spleen. They said he had so many clots to the legs and lungs it was unbelievable,” Swanson said.

He died at Bellevue on April 6.

Swanson filed a $100 million notice of claim with Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, blaming the Department of Corrections and healthcare contractor Corizon Health for negligence.

“We filed this so that the Department of Corrections will open their eyes. It seems to be that this denial of medical care is becoming an epidemic,” said JoAnn Squillace, an attorney for Nelson’s family.

In 2014, the state Commission of Correction found gross incompetence by Corizon Health after it determined that poor healthcare quality was a factor in at least 15 inmate deaths.

“As healthcare providers, we are deeply saddened by this tragic death. Corizon Health reviews the circumstances of all fatalities to help improve the quality and safety of care wherever possible,” said Stuart Ramsey, a spokeswoman for Corizon Health.

The city health department—which awarded Corizon Health’s $126 million contract—found the company did a "subpar" job prioritizing the sickest inmates to be seen in jail health clinics.

“Alvin Nelson didn’t have the luxury to take himself to a doctor or emergency room. He was in the exclusive care, custody and control of the Department of Corrections,” Squillace said.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Correction emphasized the agency's commitment to keeping inmates safe.

‎"Any death in DOC custody is a tragedy and the Commissioner is fully committed to keeping all inmates safe during their time in DOC custody,” Jeff Jacomowitz said.

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