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Partner sues prisons over Indigenous inmate's death

Duncan Murray -

A woman is suing the NSW prison system and inmate healthcare service over the death in custody of her partner after a coroner found the emergency response to his asthma attack was confused and unreasonably delayed.

Karen Pochodyla is pursuing damages over the death of Indigenous man Nathan Reynolds on September 1, 2018 at the minimum-security Geoffrey Pearce Correctional Centre, in northwest Sydney.

The 36-year-old, who is of Anaiwan and Dunghutti heritage, died of an acute asthma attack for which he received an inadequate level of medical care, according to the findings of a 2020 inquest.

"By the time corrective services officers attended Nathan, his condition had rapidly deteriorated," the coroner found.

"The delay deprived Nathan of at least some chance of surviving his acute asthma attack."

The lawsuit claims Justice Health NSW and Corrective Services NSW failed in their duty of care to Mr Reynolds and were negligent in a long list of factors that led to his death.

Ms Pochodyla says she, her child with Mr Reynolds and several of her children from a previous relationship were partially financially dependent on him week-to-week.

But Justice Health has denied Ms Pochodyla is entitled to any payment and says it is not responsible for the psychological anguish of her or her children.

In response to the lawsuit, the health agency admitted it failed to refer Mr Reynolds for a chronic disease screen or place him on a clinical pathway for ongoing management of his asthma.

However, it does not accept the breaches of duty caused Mr Reynolds' death.

The state-run prison health service further argued it was not liable for the "injuries, loss or damage" Ms Pochodyla and her children claim to have suffered.

In the hours leading up to his death, Mr Reynolds spoke to Ms Pochodyla over the phone and told her he felt "horrible".

She asked him if he had seen a doctor, to which he replied, "you don't see doctors around here, nobody gives a s*** about you," according to the coronial findings.

Mr Reynolds initiated an emergency alarm from his cell about 11.27pm that night, telling the corrections officer on duty he was finding it hard to breathe and requesting a nurse.

But rather than immediately contacting a nurse or an ambulance, officers followed what they believed to be protocol, requiring them to assess the situation in person first.

As a result, it took the nurse on duty 22 minutes after the initial call to arrive at Mr Reynolds' side, by which time he was no longer breathing and had no detectable pulse.

The coroner noted it had been "profoundly distressing" for Mr Reynolds' family to hear he did not receive the care he needed.

His identity as an Indigenous man was also acknowledged in the finding, which noted much more needed to be done to meet the health needs of First Nations people in custody.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Duncan Murray - AAP

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