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Georgia Lawmakers Seek Jail Reform After Reuters Investigation | Top News

(Reuters) – Georgia lawmakers are pressing for stronger jail oversight after a Reuters investigation identified hundreds of deaths in the state’s county jails and dangerous lapses in inmate medical care.

David Wilkerson, a Georgia state lawmaker who had been planning new jail legislation for the upcoming January session, said he intends to cite Reuters’ findings in his proposed reforms.

As part of an examination of deaths at more than 500 jails nationwide, Reuters found 272 inmate deaths among 13 large Georgia jails over more than a decade. At least half of the deaths were caused by a medical condition or illness, and a quarter by suicide.

The news organization exposed healthcare lapses at the jail in Savannah. Another report explored the 2017 death of Chinedu Efoagui, who died at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center after spending 512 days behind bars without ever being tried on the charges for which he was held.

To read the full investigation, Dying Inside, click https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-jails-deaths

Wilkerson, a Cobb County Democrat, said his proposal will focus on improving mental health care in jails, as well as the disclosure and investigation of in-custody deaths.

“It’s impossible for the jail to investigate themselves. At the end of the day you’re asking someone who did something wrong to look at themselves,” said Wilkerson. “The public trust is not there.”

Wilkerson had begun researching new legislation after the death of Kevil Wingo, a 36-year-old Atlantan who died in the Cobb County jail in 2019. He said he was further moved to propose reforms following the Reuters accounts of Efoagui’s death and others in Georgia jails.

Other state legislators say the spate of jail deaths, particularly involving inmates who had not been convicted of their charges, shows the need for enhanced oversight.

“It is a tragedy. It is malpractice on the part of the state of Georgia, and on the counties,” said Mary Margaret Oliver, a Georgia Democratic lawmaker and former magistrate court judge.

Oliver said substandard mental health care in jails must be tackled when lawmakers convene in January. “Jails are significantly the largest mental health facility in the state,” she said. “And we are not attending to the combination of mental illness, addiction, and significant physical health issues.”

The death of Efoagui, a 38-year-old Nigerian native, highlights such concerns. The software programmer was arrested after suffering a mental breakdown during a traffic stop. As his physical and mental health deteriorated behind bars, he begged for help, but died of a pulmonary embolism.

Many of Efoagui’s friends from Nigeria were unaware of the details of his death after he moved to the United States in 2012 to pursue the American dream. They expressed shock when they learned the full story in the Reuters account.

“Mental illness and the inability to post bond should not cost a life,” tweeted Ogechukwu Eze. “Any life.”

(Reporting by Linda So. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Rockville Lab Can Resume COVID-19 Testing Following Investigation

ROCKVILLE, MD — The Rockville lab ordered by the state to stop processing COVID-19 tests following an investigation into its protocols has been cleared to resume testing, the company announced Wednesday.

“I am pleased that AdvaGenix is approved to resume COVID-19 testing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health,” said AdvaGenix owner Dr. William Kearns. “AdvaGenix has confirmed the integrity of the specimens and accuracy of the tests we’ve conducted.”

AdvaGenix, once the largest supplier of COVID-19 tests for Montgomery County, had to halt testing after state and federal officials visited the lab in August and found deficient practices.

Health officials did not go into specifics but said investigators found “improper laboratory and COVID-19 testing procedures that endanger patient health, safety, and welfare.”

Montgomery County cut ties with the lab shortly thereafter.

Kearns disputed the investigation, saying that the tests were safe and accurate — and that the issues investigators found had to do with a “pre-analytical temperature stability study.”

Before being ordered to stop, AdvaGenix had processed more than 19,000 tests — or roughly 8 percent of the total testing provided to county residents.

After cutting ties with AdvaGenix, the county inked a deal with CIAN Diagnostic Laboratories in Frederick.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s top health official, said the county recently had a conversation with AdvaGenix about its services.

“At this time, based upon our current needs, we have the (testing) capacity but, consistent with what we’ve always said, we continue to explore new partnerships, particularly if there are new opportunities for new technology to integrate into the systems that we have,” he said. “So that’s where we currently stand with AdvaGenix, as well as with other companies that could potentially be able to meet those needs as they arise in the future.”

The county is consistently meeting its goal to test 5 percent of its population per month.

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This article originally appeared on the Rockville Patch

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Lab under investigation as New Mexico deals with virus surge

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is scheduled Tuesday to provide an update on COVID-19 cases after a string of record-breaking daily case counts prompted more restrictions last week and officials continue to crack down on employers who they say aren’t following the rules.

The state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has opened an investigation of Sandia National Laboratories after receiving a complaint about alleged violations of the state public health order.

A letter sent Monday by the bureau and obtained by The Associated Press alleges that the national laboratory failed to comply with the health order by not limiting operations to remote work to the greatest extent practicable to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state claims employees were ordered to cease telework and report to work in-person.

The state is requiring the lab to inform all employees and contractors of the investigation. The lab also has been ordered to complete an internal investigation to identify the root cause of COVID-19 cases that occurred in the last two weeks for each employee and contractor who tested positive.

If the lab doesn’t comply, the state says it’s authorized to post a notice of imminent danger on lab property and assess civil penalties up to $134,904 per violation.


“It is clear that neither federal (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) nor the (U.S. Department of Energy) are effectively holding Sandia National Laboratories accountable for protecting its employees from occupational exposure of COVID-19,” the letter states.

Lab spokeswoman Kristen Meub said Sandia’s top priority is to keep employees safe and healthy and that stringent safety measures have been implemented during the pandemic. She said Sandia is coordinating with the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration to respond to the state in a timely manner.

“From the start of the pandemic through Oct. 15, the majority of Sandia COVID cases were acquired offsite and outside work hours,” Meub said. “As a result of our protective measures, such as safety protocols onsite, contact tracing has confirmed the vast majority of cases among Sandia employees was caused by community spread transmission away from the worksite.”

More than 100 workers at Sandia locations in New Mexico and California have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. The lab has more than 14,000 workers, with more than 12,000 of those located in New Mexico.

While the majority of employees work from home, Sandia officials say the lab has essential work that must be performed onsite to meet national security responsibilities. For those workers, the lab provides personal protective materials such as masks and sanitizer and daily health checks are done before they’re allowed onsite.

The lab also provides onsite testing with results in less than 24 hours, contact tracing, increased cleaning and disinfecting and other measures per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Lab officials say Sandia’s protocols exceed the state requirements in many cases.

Despite having some of the strictest rules in the U.S., Lujan Grisham’s administration has been struggling

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