Fired Kentucky prison doctor can keep private practice - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Fired Kentucky prison doctor can keep private practice

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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The doctor fired after an inmate's death at Kentucky State Penitentiary will keep his private practice but may hire a lawyer as the state's investigation continues, his wife said Tuesday.

Steve Hiland was fired March 6, nearly two months after prisoner James Embry died of starvation. Besides Hiland, the state plans to fire a prison psychologist and her associate over the case, said Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.

Documents from the department's internal investigation, which were provided to WAVE 3 News by a Louisville attorney familiar with the case, indicate a "systemic failure" at the prison led to the 57-year-old's death. The investigation reveals Embry had refused 35 of 36 meals.

"How does something like this happen?" asked attorney Greg Belzley, who sued Hiland as part of a separate case in 2008. "How do you just watch as somebody does something like this to themselves?"

The state has sent letters of dismissal to Jean Hinkebein and associate Heather Losser, but their firings haven't been finalized, Lamb said. Documents indicate Hinkebein refused to provide Embry with medication after the inmate reported feeling paranoid and anxious. He began refusing meals days later.

Communication between the prison's mental health and medical departments is "poor," the Corrections Department's internal probe concluded.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has launched an investigation into the case. The Corrections Department has shuffled staffing after Embry's death and is deciding whether to make more changes, Lamb said.

Staff was aware of Embry's worsening health yet didn't put him on a hunger strike because he had drank some tea, documents reveal. Hiland was twice made aware of Embry's situation in the five weeks before he died January 13, the investigation shows.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Chanin Hiland said her husband didn't know about Embry's case at the time. The couple was in Grenada for 17 days in January and only learned of the inmate's death later, Chanin Hiland said.

"The guy wanted to quit eating," Chanin Hiland said, declining to give her opinion on why her husband had been fired.

Hiland had also been in charge of two other prisons in Western Kentucky before the state fired him, Chanin Hiland said.

Steve Hiland, who maintains an active medical license, was seeing patients Tuesday at his private practice in Eddyville, said a receptionist who answered the phone. Through the receptionist, Steve Hiland declined WAVE 3 News' request for comment.

It's not the first death of an inmate in Hiland's care. In 2008, Clifford Warfield, Jr., died after Hiland diagnosed him as faking an illness, said Belzley, who represented Warfield's mother.

In 2011, the Warfield family reached an undisclosed settlement with the state.

Steve Hiland wasn't disciplined as part of the case, Chanin Hiland and Belzley said.

"I feel like I've got some unfinished business (at the prison) now," Belzley said. "Whether they're part of the security staff or the medical staff, they're human beings -- and they're watching this happen to a human being."

Embry has no family, which makes a potential lawsuit against the state more difficult, Belzley said. But Belzley said he would consider taking on the case once the attorney general's investigation plays out.

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