Elevators that were out of service in Nassau County’s jail — despite legislative approval of money to fix them — caused a delay last week in how long it took police medics to reach an inmate who hung himself and died a day later in a hospital, sources said.
The elevators in the jail building where John Quaresimo, 47, attempted suicide on June 13 haven’t been operational for several weeks, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The sources said the infrastructure problem forced medics to divert to a route that adds at least a few minutes — and potentially up to about 10 minutes — to the time it takes first responders to get to an inmate in the infirmary area and bring that person to an ambulance.
Capt. Michael Golio, a spokesman for Sheriff Michael Sposato, said in a statement last week that “there was no delay in providing emergency medical treatment” in Quaresimo’s case.
However, the jail spokesman acknowledged that a more direct route for ambulance personnel inside the jail was compromised that day by elevator problems.
Golio said “alternative routes to the second floor of the facility were available and utilized,” and that staff from private medical contractor Armor Correctional Health Services “provided immediate care prior to the arrival of the ambulance and throughout the resuscitation effort.”
The sheriff’s spokesman said jail records showed an ambulance arrived at the jail at 1:15 p.m. and left for nearby Nassau University Medical Center with the inmate 23 minutes later, and that “overall turnaround time . . . indicates that the alternate routes of access were effective.”
However, county records show widespread elevator repairs at the jail, including work in the building where sources said Quaresimo was housed in the infirmary, have been pending for months.
“If it turns out to be true that work could have been, should have been done that could have helped John receive medical treatment faster, I think that is inexcusable and only makes this tragedy that much worse,” Quaresimo’s attorney, Patrick Kauffman, said of the elevator issue.
Records show that even after legislators approved money for jail elevator work, administration officials renegotiated a cheaper deal with the vendor before moving to restore the original funding on the same day as Quaresimo’s suicide attempt.
On May 23, the county legislature’s Rules Committee approved a $317,000 purchase order for elevator modernization and repair at the jail, records show. The full legislature did not have to approve the purchase order.
Administration officials then tried to shave about $94,000 off the project, according to figures from the county comptroller’s office.
On May 25, a purchase order for a lesser amount of $222,802 for the elevator work arrived in the comptroller’s office for approval, which was given on June 6, office spokeswoman Eleni Manis said last week. She said her office was told there had been a renegotiation between administration officials and the vendor.
But on June 13 the comptroller’s office got an amended purchase order that asked for approval, which is currently pending, of the original amount of $317,000, Manis said.
Records show that price included work on two elevators in the D jail building, which includes the infirmary. Each of those elevators was slated for $94,000 in repairs, according to bid documents from the winning bidder, Bronx-based Mercury Elevator Corp.
The county executive and sheriff didn’t answer questions last week about why the elevator project price was negotiated down after the legislature’s approval, or why the price went back up by about $94,000.
“While this could be a coincidence, I think that the timing is very suspicious and I hope that this raises enough red flags for this to be looked into,” said Kauffman.
Sposato’s spokesman did say administration officials expect “a major elevator refurbishment project that includes work in addition to the D building elevators” to start shortly and last about four months.
But county Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) questioned last week why elevator repairs haven’t been done already if the legislature had approved money for it.
“Infrastructure should not be an issue, but obviously it is,” said Curran, the ranking minority party member of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee. “. . . The elevator wasn’t working so minutes, precious minutes, were added on to getting this guy to the hospital, to get him the care that he really needed.”
Brian Sullivan, head of the Nassau correction officers union, said the jail has had ongoing elevator problems. He said the alternate route to the jail’s infirmary includes having to pass through other security gates and going through another building “at least a football field away.”
“It’s that much longer in the response time,” Sullivan said of the secondary route. “Even if it’s a few minutes, in that type of situation, every second counts.”
Sullivan said correction officers started CPR on Quaresimo immediately after he was found, and Armor then took over before police medics got to the area.
County officials did not say exactly when authorities found Quaresimo after his suicide attempt, but sources said he was housed in an infirmary cell area where correction officers must make rounds every 15 minutes.
Sources previously said the West Hempstead man — who was jailed after a June 11 arrest on stolen property and grand larceny charges — hung himself with an arm sling he had for medical purposes.
Kauffman said he last saw Quaresimo in court on June 7, and he’d been wearing an arm sling after a car accident.
Quaresimo’s death marked the jail’s fourth inmate fatality this year.