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

 


Prison medical system is in trouble


COLUMBUS (AP) -- 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 by the investigation 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 to 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 from the wounds 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.

"He should have been protected by the state instead of allowed to lay there
and get sicker and sicker and sicker," said his father, Bob Schwamberger.

Rojelio Garcia, 38, died in July 2001 of a heart attack after being checked
for chest pains and released from the infirmary at the Southern Ohio
Correctional Facility near Lucasville. Garcia was found unconscious 10 minutes after
returning to his cell.

Kenneth Humphrey, 42, was told he had heartburn after complaining of chest
pains March 1 at the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster. He
collapsed 25 minutes after leaving the infirmary and was pronounced dead of an
irregular heartbeat 47 minutes later.

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, a native of Iraq who lives in Washington Court House, 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.

The Pickaway prison has a nursing home for those requiring skilled care such
as ventilators.

"We are a model for the rest of the nation from a number of points of view," Wilkinson said.

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