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Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 8:39 PM
Subject: NaphCare and Alabama Sued for Grossly Inadequate System of Providing Medical Care
NaphCare and Alabama Sued for Grossly Inadequate System of Providing Medical Care for Women Prisoners
Montgomery, Ala. - A lawsuit has been filed against the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) and NaphCare, Inc., and MHM Correctional Services, Inc., the private for-profit companies that Alabama pays to provide medical and mental health treatment to prisoners with serious health problems. Attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed an amended complaint against the DOC and NaphCare for failing to provide constitutionally required medical care for women prisoners in Alabama.
According to Lisa Kung, an attorney at SCHR representing the inmates, "When the state takes away a person's freedom- including the freedom to go to a doctor when you are sick- the law is clear that the state must then provide care for serious medical needs. This is not happening in Alabama's women's prisons."
Medical services at the women's prisons in Alabama are characterized by long delays in proper diagnosis and treatment, dangerous lapses in necessary medication, and a severe shortage of qualified medical personnel and particularly physicians, dentists, and psychiatrists. The dangerous and overcrowded conditions at the prison cause extremely high levels of psychological stress and chronic sleep deprivation that lower prisoners' threshold for illness and exacerbate symptoms of chronic diseases such as seizure disorders, hypertension, and mental illness. There are no more than 7 infirmary beds, many located in the hallway, for the 1,500 female prisoners in Alabama.
The contract for medical services between the state of Alabama and NaphCare is severely underfunded and ranks 50th out of the 50 states in spending per patient. In order to be able to turn a profit on such a severely underfunded contract, decisions to provide diagnosis and treatment for serious conditions are made primarily on the basis of cost rather than the medical needs of patients. NaphCare opts for short-term, band-aid treatment to prisoners whose medical conditions require surgery or referrals to outside specialists for evaluation. Serious medical problems are largely ignored until they present an emergency, and until that point, NaphCare makes a calculation that it is more cost-effective to delay or deny treatment than provide it.
DEATH: Claudia Muller, a 55-year old woman with heart problems died in the exceedingly hot cell at Birmingham Work Center during the early morning of July 28, 2002, after screaming for help for days. The DOC and NaphCare knew she had serious heart problems and she had been identified on June 17 as having serious mental illness, but she was not provided necessary prescribed medication while in lock-up, and was not monitored by security staff at the understaffed work release facility.
CHRONIC ILLNESS: Defendants' treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, seizure disorders, kidney disease, HIV, Hepatitis C, and hypertension falls far below the standards of care that are well established and widely accepted by the medical community for the treatment of chronic illnesses, resulting in the conditions not being adequately controlled, and putting the prisoners at substantial risk of serious medical incidents such as seizures, strokes, and heart attacks.
DENTAL CARE: There is so little access to dental care that prisoners without teeth wait years for dentures. Some prisoners, desperate for dental care and in extreme pain have resorted to pulling out their own teeth to alleviate the pain.
MENTAL HEALTH: Many of the recent assaults with razors were carried out by mentally ill women forced to live in general population dormitories without adequate mental health treatment. The number of psychiatrists and mental health counselors is far below the level available to men in Alabama's male prisons.
"It is shameful that the Alabama Department of Corrections has allowed the medical care and consequently the health of women prisoners to deteriorate as severely as it is has." states Tamara Serwer of SCHR, also representing the inmates. Serwer continues, "It's disheartening that lawsuits must be filed in order to get the state to fulfill its constitutionally required responsibilities."