Secret recordings cost Ga. prison hospital administrator his job

12:00 a.m. Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 Homepage
A rusted drain at Augusta State Medical Prison. Hanging down is a black piece of rubber used to divert rainwater when the roof leaks.

The top administrator at the state’s troubled prison hospital has been forced out of his job after being caught secretly recording conversations with other corrections officials on his state-issued cell phone, documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Augusta State Medical Prison chief administrator Randy Brown (left) is shown with Dr. Billy Nichols, the statewide medical director for Georgia Correctional HealthCare, in this Department of Corrections photo.

Randy Brown, the health services administrator at Augusta State Medical Prison since 2004, abruptly retired on Dec. 8 after his supervisors at Georgia Correctional HealthCare discovered the recordings and gave him the choice of resigning or being terminated, the documents show.

Brown’s ouster marks the second major departure of a leader at the state’s flagship prison medical facility since a series of stories in the AJC earlier this year revealed unsafe and unsanitary conditions there. In November, the prison’s warden, Scott Wilkes, was reassigned after 18 months in his position.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Scott Wilkes was removed as warden of Augusta State Medical Prison in November 2017. He had served in that role since July 2016. Department of Corrections photo.

As the senior manager for the 55-bed hospital in Grovetown, commonly known as ASMP, Brown played a key role with Georgia Correctional HealthCare, the branch of Augusta University that provides medical services for the Department of Corrections.

But his $99,457-a-year job ended suddenly because he violated Georgia Department of Corrections policy by secretly recording conversations with officials from both the GDC and Georgia Correctional HealthCare, according to a document in his personnel file obtained by the AJC in response to an open records request.

He also was “insubordinate” in that he violated an edict banning personal cell phones from the facility, the document says.

Brown did not respond to a phone message seeking comment for this story.

According to the document — a “note to file” memo prepared by Georgia Correctional HealthCare’s director of human resources, Danny Finn — GCHC officials confronted Brown on Dec. 1 after receiving a Nov. 30 email indicating that his cell phone had been left unattended and in record mode on the scheduling desk of the prison’s operating room.

In the email, Dr. Timothy Young, the facility’s outpatient medical director, wrote that the phone was discovered by a clerk on the afternoon of Nov. 29. Young’s email included a statement from the clerk, Dawn Faith Shinault, in which she said she found the phone and a clipboard belonging to Brown after he had left the area. The phone’s display indicated that the device had been recording for nearly three hours, she wrote.

Young wrote that the matter was particularly disconcerting to him because the phone was discovered after he had a conversation with the OR manager in which they discussed some of the issues plaguing the facility as well as a patient who had recently undergone surgery.

Young added that, while he would prefer to see the matter handled “in-house,” he believed Brown might have violated laws related to both wiretapping and patient confidentiality.

In Georgia, it’s a crime to secretly record phone or in-person conversations unless one of the parties consents.

In the scenario outlined by the document in Brown’s personnel file, though, the recordings appear legal because the administrator was in effect a consenting party.

According to Finn, Brown stated that “to the best of his knowledge” he never recorded any conversations in which he wasn’t a participant, and there is no indication in the HR director’s memo that the issue of the phone being left unattended on the operating room scheduling desk received further inquiry.

During the Dec. 1 meeting, Finn and Georgia Correctional HealthCare’s Executive Director Chad Knight asked Brown for his state cell phone and the pin to access it, according to the memo prepared by Finn. At that time, Brown acknowledged recording “meeting minutes” for several months because he had a bad memory, the memo said.

However, after reviewing the recordings, none of the conversations could be characterized as “meeting minutes,” nor was there evidence that Brown advised the other parties that a recording would be made, Finn wrote. Most of the recorded conversations were between Brown and a variety of officials, including Knight, Wilkes and an unnamed deputy commissioner from the Department of Corrections, the memo said.

The following week, Knight advised Brown that leaders from both Georgia Correctional HealthCare and the Department of Corrections had lost confidence in his ability to lead ASMP and gave him the option of resignation or termination, Finn said. When the 61-year-old Brown asked if he could retire, he received immediate approval and was escorted from the building, the memo said.

The AJC stories detailing the conditions at Augusta State Medical prison — based on photos, emails and other documents — have shown how numerous health and security issues have been allowed to persist for months and in some cases years near the operating room and other crucial areas for patient care.

Bags of trash were stored directly outside the OR, forcing doctors and nurses to swat flies and mosquitoes during procedures, until the newspaper exposed the problem in October.

The AJC also has detailed how leaking ceilings have gone unrepaired, leading to the growth of so-called black mold; how inmates have complained of broken showers and toilets in the crowded dormitories they occupied after surgery, and how some nurses have been so fearful for their safety that they quit within days of starting employment.

» Doctors & Sex Abuse: AJC 50-state investigation