The worst instances of potential medical malpractice in the prison system. That is what Federal Judge Thomas O. Farrish called the situation regarding 25 inmates under the care of the Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”). On November 4, Farrish ruled that the state must turn over information dating back four years from the DOC regarding their medical cases.
A lawsuit filed by a family member of a prisoner who died due to DOC negligence prompted the order. The man’s aunt sued several DOC officials, including former Commissioner Scott Semple for not ensuring health care in its facilities met community standards and for “acting with deliberate indifference” in the case of her nephew, William Bennett.
Although Semple was served a deposition notice in November 2019 seeking 24 classes of documents, he neither turned them over nor filed an objection. In short, he ignored the law.
Months Without Treatment
William Bennett died of larynx cancer while serving time in 2017. Two years earlier, he told authorities he was frequently coughing frequently and experiencing trouble swallowing. He was nicknamed Chewbacca by fellow inmates as his condition worsened since he could only grunt and groan rather than speak.
He was not permitted to visit an ear, nose and throat specialist until January 2017, and that was on an emergency basis. The doctors found a massive tumor covering his larynx, trachea, and thyroid. Bennett died that November, just a month before he was scheduled for release.
Stiff and Cold When Found
In June 2018, Desiree Diaz, a 33-year-old mother of three, was found stiff and cold in her bunk at the York Correctional Institutional just one day after an arraignment on domestic violence charges.
Diaz was an alcoholic who also suffered from an underactive thyroid. Even though the judge ordered alcohol withdrawal treatment for Diaz, she did not receive treatment, nor was her thyroid monitored. She was not placed on a watch for alcohol withdrawal. She did slip into a coma and die, and was not discovered until her body had gone into rigor mortis.
Just days after Farrish’s ruling, her mother filed a lawsuit against the DOC and several officials. Along with punitive damages, she is also seeking training for nurses at York, the state’s only women’s prison, on dealing with alcohol withdrawal in female inmates.
Why the System is Failing
The reasons the DOC’s healthcare system is failing are primarily due to the lack of medical resources. In the prison’s medical system, 120 jobs were left open as of 2019. There are prisons in which no healthcare provider is available to write prescriptions. One doctor, the sole provider for 1,500 inmates, said that infection rates are high and quarantining very difficult –and this was before the pandemic.
The filing of the Bennett and other lawsuits has impacted the prison health care system. According to doctor depositions, wait times to see a specialist are long, but that is because the DOC is now approving more of such visits because they are facing so many lawsuits.
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