Report Finds Gruesome Medical Malpractice and Death in Arizona Prisons

The paraplegic patient was left to continue to decline until the need to amputate his penis. An untreated and undiagnosed form of lung cancer led to a loss in weight for a man who died slowly and painfully without any pain medication. Multiple sclerosis in a woman was misdiagnosed and ignored until it left her nearly paralysed at 36.

Arizona’s prison system faces a civil suit over medical negligence claims. The case involves a lengthy-running civil litigation. A doctor testifying in the case presents a disturbing picture of unneeded suffering, malpractice, and death within the prison walls.

An expert witness ReportTod Wilcox is the medical director at Salt Lake County Jail System. He described several preventable deaths last week and said that it was offensive to him as an a physician. It also showed that Arizona’s prisons place incarcerated persons at unacceptable risk of harm.

Wilcox writes that “a system that permits this level of cruelty and incompetence, but fails to take decisive actions to identify the causes, and to ensure that those involved in the case are fully retrained/or separated form service” is “morally bankrupt.”

Wilcox found in his report that Arizona’s poor standards of nursing continue to pose a risk for serious injury and put prisoners “at an unreasonable, substantial risk.”

As Reason According to reports, American jails are prone to medical neglect, even though the Eighth Amendment is supposed guaranteed basic medical care and hygiene and decent living conditions. 

Since 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACUAZ) and several law firms have litigated this case. The federal class action LawsuitThe lawsuit was filed against Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry after media investigations and continued allegations of inadequate medical care provided by department’s physician.

In 2015, the ADCRR settled the suit by agreeing to take steps to improve prison medical care. However, since 2015, several other law firms and the ACLU have accused ADCRR repeatedly of violating the settlement agreement. Federal Judges have also agreed.

A federal magistrate judge FinedThe ADCRR was $1.4 Million in 2018. Roslyn Silber, U.S. District Court of Arizona Condemned the departmentIt was also fined $1.1 million more for not meeting the standards for quality medical care. Also, Silver canceled the settlement agreement and forced ADCRR into court. A civil trial started last week.

ACLU claims that medical and mental healthcare care are cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth Amendment.

Corene Kennerick, the ACLU’s National Prison Project deputy director, says that “it falls very, very short” of the constitutional standard. The bar is very low. The Mayo Clinic does not have the right to provide medical care at this level. It’s just basic stuff. Unfortunately, our experts have found that they consistently fall short.

Kendall Johnson, who was among the many witnesses imprisoned in the trial, gave evidence last week by videoconference from the special care unit. Johnson is currently being held there due to advanced multiple Sclerosis.

Wilcox’s account states that Johnson reported feeling numb in her legs and feet three years ago. It was only then that she was properly diagnosed. She began to lose her ability to walk and weakened over the years. Johnson TestimonyShe wrote letters last week asking for assistance until she could not, and then she had other prisoners write to her on her behalf. According to her, she eventually needed to pay other inmates for food.

Johnson received the proper medication after she was first diagnosed. However, Johnson’s condition had progressed so much that it took her another year to get started. Wilcox wrote that Johnson is now “profoundly handicapped”. She can only hope to be able to swallow and speak for a while.

Johnson said that Johnson now spends her day watching TV and “counting ceiling tiles.”

Wilcox relates another instance in which a man in prison, whose identity is not revealed, succumbed to lung cancer. The obvious symptoms of cancer were ignored or missed by staff, which included drastic weight loss.

Wilcox writes that “a mature man who has lost 90% of his baseline weight is a medical problem that requires an explanation.” 

In response to the man’s symptoms of extreme throat pain and weight gain, a nurse practitioner advised him to “eat slow, cut down on food and eat in smaller pieces.”

Wilcox claims that even the end-of life care provided to this man after his diagnosis of lung cancer was unacceptable. Two months passed before the man got Tylenol #3 pain medication. Wilcox wrote that this was insufficient for his pain management. The man had difficulty swallowing and life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding after taking anti-inflammatory drugs. However, he was eventually given morphine but it was only intermittently.

Wilcox states that the “end-of-life care provided to this patient does not meet any standards for hospice or palliative care. He was in severe pain and died without any reasonable medical assistance.

Wilcox describes another paraplegic, who is described as having open sores around his buttocks, scrotum, and back from falling from his broken wheelchair onto an toilet. He was allowed to worsen by prison staff until the need to amputate both his penis and his stomach.

Wilcox’s report states that Centurion (the ADCRR’s contracted medical care provider) won’t provide the man with moistened towels to maintain his cleanliness.

Wilcox writes, “The incredible thing is that Centurion wants to deny him some very affordable wipes. Centurion runs a risk of getting infections and skin damage which would be extremely costly to fix through surgery. This is a complete waste of time.

Wilcox’s study concluded that nursing quality is the major problem in the ADCRR’s health care system.

“By design, healthcare decisions in [Arizona prisons] are pushed down to the lowest possible level—nurses who are practicing poorly and far outside the scope of their licenses,” Wilcox writes. Nursing staff are failing to properly assess patients, read reports carefully, identify dangerous symptoms and report concerns to providers.

Wilcox writes that even if ADCRR had followed the terms of settlement, the ADCRR would have been at grave risk. “Because when people did see nurses and providers, they often used poor clinical judgement and failed to deliver care that is in line with community standards.”

A spokesperson for the ADCRR declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.