Inmate sues over medical care in prison

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(Host) A lawsuit has raised questions about the quality of medical care at a state prison work camp. The suit says two nurses failed to follow doctor’s orders in the treatment of a prison inmate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state of Vermont contracts with a St. Louis company, Correctional Medical Services, to provide health care for prisoners. The company and two nurses were sued recently by an inmate who says he received poor care while he was serving a sentence at the St. Johnsbury prison work camp.

David Sleigh represents Rod Payette, who had a history of diabetes and poor circulation. The lawsuit filed in federal court says the nurses failed to follow a doctor’s orders to test for blood sugar and circulation problems.

(Sleigh) “By the time he finally saw a doctor late in the stages of his leg problems, it required surgery that certainly would not have been necessary had proper medical attention been provided in the first instance.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Board of Nursing has suspended the licenses of the two nurses involved in the case. The board said that their treatment fell below acceptable standards and that Payette had to wait too long for proper medical treatment.

Correctional Medical Services administers the prison health in more than 300 institutions in 31 states. It functions as a health maintenance organization, or HMO. But the company says it wasn’t working in Vermont in the spring and summer of 2000 – the time that inmate allegedly received the substandard care. Ken Fields is the company spokesman.

(Fields) “We did not begin providing health care to inmates in the Vermont prison system until November 2000 – well after the events that are alleged in this lawsuit took place. So we would not expect to be a party to this lawsuit.”

(Dillon) Sleigh says he named the company as a defendant in the lawsuit because it represented the two nurses in the separate disciplinary case before the Nursing Board. He says the health maintenance organizations shouldn’t try to make money on inmate care.

(Sleigh) “I think that there are some basic services that probably should not be contracted out for a for-profit organization. I don’t think that there’s ever likely adequate funding for inmate health services. It’s been a chronic problem for years. To think that there’s room there to make money is probably erroneous.”

(Dillon) Sleigh has sued Correctional Medical Services before. An Illinois jury recently awarded $1.75 million in a case he filed in Chicago.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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