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Old 04-25-2005, 07:03 AM
DeniseJJ DeniseJJ is offline
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Post Deaths demand answers

Deaths demand answers

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Three women who died at Tutwiler prison last year received bad medical care - perhaps even bad enough in two of the cases to be blamed in the deaths.

That's the conclusion of Dr. Michael Puisis of Illinois, an expert in correctional health care who was hired by a federal court to monitor Tutwiler's health care services for inmates.

Specifically, Puisis found:

The primary prison doctor at the time had "grossly mismanaged" the underlying medical problems of an inmate who suffered from lupus and died of a brain hemorrhage in March 2004. Her death came a few months after the doctor, for no clinical reason, canceled tests that had been recommended by an outside cardiologist.

Another inmate received substandard care for three chronic conditions, including high cholesterol that went untreated and "unquestionably contributed to her death." After she died in August, the doctor responsible for her "substandard care" performed the death review and noted no problems with her treatment.

An inmate hanged herself after being on suicide watch for five days in January 2004. The day before she died, she was crying, saying "Daddy, don't hurt me anymore," and banging her head against the wall. Yet she was not evaluated by a mental health professional except for a phone call to a psychiatrist who prescribed medicine.

These kinds of stories hardly inspire confidence in the Department of Corrections or its medical contractor, Prison Health Services. And unfortunately, the cases aren't just extreme examples.

In 19 of 22 cases Puisis reviewed at Tutwiler, he found problems with followup, drug errors and substandard care. Women with HIV, staph infections, diabetes and other conditions were consistently denied treatment, he said.

His findings are simply alarming - especially if, as the Department of Corrections and Prison Health Services contend, inmate health care services are better now than they used to be.

But scariest of all is that the department and PHS are now trying to keep Puisis' reports away from public view. The reports have typically been filed with the court and made public by the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Atlanta-based law firm representing prisoners in a lawsuit over health care. Now, the state and its medical contractor want to keep the reports confidential.

That's absurd.

The need for scrutiny is obvious: Inmates aren't getting proper health care, and some may be dying as a result. The problems need to be brought to light so they can be fixed.

But keeping the monitor reports secret would be a bad idea even if they were glowing tributes to the health care services provided to inmates at Tutwiler. Alabama taxpayers are footing the bill for the prison system and for PHS' $143 million contract, and they have every right to know whether their money is being well-spent.

If Gov. Bob Riley is serious about accountability, he shouldn't stand for his prison commissioner working to keep such information out of the hands of citizens.

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