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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

Report: Waits lengthy to see prison doc


The Associated Press


COLUMBUS - Ohio prison inmates face long waits for treatment by physicians who often are overworked and sometimes have histories of disciplinary problems, a newspaper and television station's investigation shows.

At least two inmates died minutes after being released from prison clinics, and others have gone days without receiving prescribed medicines, according to the three-month investigation reported Sunday by The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-TV.

Some doctors working in the prison system have criminal records or have previous license suspensions or other discipline from the state Medical Board, according to an analysis of thousands of pages of corrections records.

"We don't profess that we're perfect," said Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. "But we're also very cognizant of the fact that if there are quirks ... we want to fix them."

Wilkinson said problems uncovered are "aberrations" that don't represent the entire system that provides medical care to more than 45,000 inmates in 33 prisons.

Inmate complaints about medical care are the type most frequently received by the Cincinnati-based Prison Reform Advocacy Center.

"This is a pathetic situation in Ohio, and it needs to be addressed promptly," said Alphonse Gerhardstein, the center's president.

Some prisoners have waited three to 16 months for operations, and the waiting list for surgery once grew to 100 inmates, the investigation found.

At the "supermax" Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, one inmate waited five days for heart surgery while another waited 16 months for an operation to remove a lump on his shoulder that grew the size of a billiard ball.

In late 2001, inmates at the Lima Correctional Institution went up to five days without prescriptions during two weeks of staffing problems at the prison pharmacy.

In the past three years, the state has paid five wrongful-death claims filed by relatives of deceased inmates, and more lawsuits are pending.

Prisons spokeswoman Andrea Dean compared the death rate in the prison health care system with that in a conventional hospital. Through the end of July, 56 Ohio inmates have died. There were 118 prison deaths in 2002 and 118 in 2001, less than 3 percent of the inmate population.

The investigation was sparked by the death of Sean Schwamberger, a 19-year-old inmate at the Pickaway Correctional Institution who died of a drug-resistant staphylococcus infection on April 29.

The Toledo native was nearing his release date in an 11-month sentence for cashing forged checks worth less than $800.

Despite an outbreak of at last 26 staph cases over two months, medical staff did not take samples to grow the bacteria and determine the strain. If they had, they would have known penicillin - used to treat Schwamberger - wouldn't work against that type of staph.

Such tests are now standard procedure in the prisons.

Also, inmates often are treated by medical professionals with a history of disciplinary problems.

"We do have to tolerate a different standard sometimes because it's hard to get people to come and work in the prisons to provide medical care," Dean said.

At Pickaway, Schwamberger was under the care of 66-year-old Dr. Adil Yamour, who had lost his job of eight years at the London Correctional Institution after supervisors complained he was experiencing "burnout."

Yamour said he was discriminated against and provided good care despite having to see 70 to 90 inmates in an eight-hour shift.

Another doctor worked at a prison in Lorain and the "supermax" at Youngstown while 35 criminal charges were pending against him. Dr. Ayman Kader was later convicted on 10 counts related to writing bogus amphetamine prescriptions and his medical license was permanently revoked.

Dean said the prisons failed to do required criminal records checks in Kader's case.

Wilkinson said Ohio's prison system goes beyond requirements in the law for inmate health care, especially in its partnership with Ohio State University Medical Center.

The state pays the campus hospital $26 million a year to treat inmates in its Corrections Medical Center, which also has a hospice for terminally ill inmates.