By MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press
(AP) -- A scathing new report by court-approved researchers paints a bleak
picture of medical care in Illinois prisons, describing treatment delays, haphazard
follow-up care, chaotic record keeping and a litany of other problems that may
have cut short the lives of some inmates.
405-page report, which the Illinois Department of Corrections immediately
disputed, was filed late Tuesday night in U.S. District Court in Chicago in a
class-action civil suit against the agency that oversees 49,000 inmates
statewide. The report concludes that "Illinois has been unable to meet
minimal constitutional standards with regards to the adequacy of its health
minutes of the filing, the agency issued a statement saying the report
"uses a broad brush to paint an incomplete picture of the comprehensive
medical system in place." It said authors were wrong to draw sweeping
conclusions after visiting just eight of 25 Illinois prison facilities.
experts, who had access to thousands of prison records, also scrutinized a
sample of 63 Illinois prisoner deaths from illnesses and found
"significant lapses" in care in 60 percent of those cases, calling that
rate "unacceptably high."
report cites many individual cases, including that of Edward Thomas.
was convicted of first-degree murder for throwing 20-year-old Kevin Tremble
head first down a Chicago elevator shaft in an apparent gang-related dispute,
according to filings in his criminal case. Even though Thomas pleaded for help
as he began coughing up blood, the report says it took six months for doctors
at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg to locate a softball-size
cancerous tumor clinging to his neck area and lung. But it was too late.
Thomas, at 48, died four months later on Jan. 30, 2013.
blatant disregard for this patient's obvious symptoms ... is stunning,"
the report said. "Despite the patient's repeated earnest cries for help,
including several instances wherein he was essentially stating, `I think I have
cancer,' his symptoms were brushed off ... until ... this dying man could no
longer be ignored."
his sentencing in 1984, a Cook County judge said Thomas had displayed "exceptionally
brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty" and handed him an
80-year prison term.
inmates, even those imprisoned for murder, are entitled to better care, said
Benjamin Wolf, a plaintiffs' attorney and chief legal counsel of the ACLU of
Illinois, which joined the lawsuit in 2013.
measure of justice of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, including
prisoners," Wolf said. "No one sentenced these guys to suffer and die
of inadequate health care."
report includes Thomas' prison, age and the date of his death, but not his
name. Knox County Coroner Mark Thomas, who performed the autopsy on Thomas,
confirmed to The Associated Press that he was the inmate who died of lung
cancer on Jan. 30, 2013 at the Galesburg prison. Thomas was the only inmate who
died that day.
Don Lippert, a diabetic, brought the civil suit in 2010. His complaint contends
that "deliberate indifference" about inmates' medical care violates
Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
argued that part of the blame lies with Wexford Health Services, Inc., one of
the defendants. Illinois in 2011 awarded it a ten-year, $1.3 billion contract
to provide health care to Illinois' inmates, Wexford's website says.
complaint says Illinois pays Wexford a per-prisoner fee and "thus has an
economic incentive to provide minimal care." Wexford has denied that in
earlier filings. A message left at its Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, headquarters
late Tuesday wasn't immediately returned.
Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm
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