Can we all agree that prison inmates with health problems should never be refused treatment? Or assumed to be faking symptoms even as they’re dying? Nor should they receive medical care from a private company with a financial incentive for doing just that. It isn’t as though inmates can shop around for a doctor, or even seek a second opinion.
Take the case of 27-year-old Marques Davis, from Wichita. According to a new lawsuit, he reported yet again to the prison infirmary at Hutchinson Correctional Facility on Dec. 27, 2016. “It feels like something is eating my brain,” he told the Corizon Health employees who staff the infirmary there. Corizon provides health care in prisons across Kansas, Missouri and the country, and is typically paid by the prisoner, regardless of how much treatment their employees provide — or withhold.
For months before that December visit, Davis had been complaining of numbness and weakness in his legs. In the months that followed, he continued to ask Corizon’s doctors and nurses why his vision was blurring and his speech slurring. Over and over, he became so confused that he drank his own urine.
Yet according to a federal lawsuit filed by Davis’ mother and daughter, Corizon’s doctors and nurses failed to respond, even as the fungus that in a sense was eating his brain slowly killed him.
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The company has offered condolences and has said it can’t discuss his care because of privacy protections. But in infirmary reports, their employees seemed to believe Davis was faking and choosing to stay in bed, not even getting up to urinate. This even as his frantic mother begged prison officials to see that Davis really was sick and getting sicker.
It wasn’t until after he suffered a heart attack on April 12, the suit alleges, that he was finally taken to a hospital, where a CT scan showed “dramatic swelling of the brain sufficient to force the upper part of the brain down into the lower part of the brain.” He died the next day, and an autopsy report listed the cause of death as a form of meningitis, advanced granulomatous meningoencephalitis, brought on by Candida Albicans fungus.
Corizon is the largest for-profit provider of prison health care in the country, but has been sued for malpractice 660 times in five years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It has lost contracts in six states and New York City, following a series of deaths in the jail on Riker’s Island. The company says it’s got new management and is growing again, but we agree with Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who said the state “should consider dropping this contractor at the earliest possible date.”
What’s more, Kansas should think twice — or as many times as necessary — before privatizing care for at Osawatomie State Hospital. Because privatized institutional treatment all too often provides only the level of care that Davis allegedly received.