Is Connecticut’s Prison System Headed Toward A Medical Malpractice Crisis?

Connecticut’s Department of Corrections has a major problem. The state agency, which just paid out $1.3 million in a settlement to a former prisoner whose subcutaneous lymphoma was misdiagnosed for nearly 3 years, is at risk of major medical malpractice litigation.

Regional attorneys are fielding call after call from prisoners and their families who say the State doesn’t seem to care about their medical problems. The Corrections Department itself, according to the Hartford Courant, has identified at least 25 cases, “including eight deaths, in which the department has been sued or expects to be sued.”

Independent Audit Finds Evidence Of “Medical Indifference”

Liability against the prison system, at least in Connecticut, appears to be building. Even worse, an investigative report, commissioned at the behest of Corrections Department officials, found after reviewing the 25 cases that they displayed a pattern of “medical indifference,” sources close to the matter say. Currently, 8 wrongful death lawsuits are pending in state and federal courts against Connecticut’s Department of Corrections.

Unfortunately, the independent report, prepared for $63,000 by Criminal Justice Institute, Inc., has not been made public. The State of Connecticut successfully argued before a session of the Freedom of Information Commission that the report was protected by attorney / client privilege. Even Len Fasano, leader of the Connecticut State Senate, has been denied access to the report. While the report undoubtedly contains credible evidence of medical malpractice, no one but a few state auditors have been allowed to read it.

Hartford Courant Finds 14 Medical Violation Cases

Independent of the report, reporters from the Hartford Courant have reviewed medical reports on hundreds of inmate deaths going back to 2009, finding at least 14 cases in which investigators from the Department of Corrections noted violations of the medical standard of care. Several of the reports are extremely troubling. In one case, a 42-year-old inmate complained of breathing problems for days until, on October 13, 2012, he reported to the prison’s infirmary saying he couldn’t breath. Within an hour, he was dead.

UConn Health Loses Contract To Provide Medical Care

In Connecticut prisons, medical care was, until recently, provided by doctors from UConn Health, but state auditors have questioned the contractual relationship between the state’s Department of Corrections and the prestigious university’s research hospital.

In a recent audit, examiners from the state criticized the $100 million contract, noting that there had been no bidding process held before it was awarded to UConn Health. State auditors said the program “lacked quality controls, performance benchmarks and oversight,” the Courant writes. In effect, the audit found, UConn Health is allowed to police its own efforts, rather than being subjected to independent outside review. That’s very strange for a situation in which the health and safety of those in state custody is implicated.

Senators and representatives in the State have lambasted the agreement, which has been in place for 17 years, “as being long on cost, short on accountability and unlike any other agency-vendor relationship in the state.”

A “Moral Obligation” To Care

Republican Len Fasano, in particular, has been an ardent advocate for the rights of prisoners to quality medical care. “When you’ve got custody of people,” Fasano says, “you have a moral obligation to take care of their health needs.”

In fact, UConn Health’s bid to maintain the prison medical system fared so poorly that the Department of Corrections has decided to take on the provision of medical care itself.

The contract with UConn Health ended earlier this year and, in anticipation of the change, the Corrections Department has hired over 600 doctors, nurses and medical techs from UConn Health. Some high-level officials, however, aren’t sure the Department is up to the challenge. When he heard that the Corrections Department would be replacing UConn Health as the provider of medical care, Dr. Joseph Breton, hired only 3 months earlier earlier to head the effort, resigned. In depositions, Dr. Breton “expressed deep frustrations over the quality of medical care,” the Hartford Courant writes.

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