BEYOND BARS: Correctional Conceptual Medical Apathy: Is There Any Hope?

William A. Larson
Licking, MO

Prison healthcare, for the most part, is exemplified by the well-known caveat concerning closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. Due to contractual monetary rest raints, preventative medical care is nonexistent. Much too often, a prisoner’s health care needs are ignored—except to assist the prisoner die.

In the past few years, new “direct-acting, antiviral” (DAA) drugs have been developed that have a 95-99% cure rate for people who suffer from chronic Hepatitis C (HCU) viral infections. Postawko v. MDOC 2017 US Dist. Lexis 71715 and 11723.

There are approximately 5,000 prisoners known to have HCU within the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC). According to published cases, the individual cost of the full treatment has risen from $84,000—when I assisted DS, who has “end-stage” liver disease, receive his Harvoni (DAA) treatment in 2015 (Simrin v. MDOC/Corizon CRA #6:15-cu-03198-DGK), to $94,000 in 2017. Bernier v. Trump 242 F. Supp. 3d 31 (USDC DC 2017).

It will cost Missouri taxpayers $470 million to treat all of the MDOC known HCU-infected prisoners, which is almost twice the MDOC’s total yearly budget. Of course, this doesn’t include the undiagnosed prisoners with HCU.) There isn’t any possible way Corizon Health could eat this expense.

In 1991, I was assisting a brittle diabetic prisoner who was attempting to receive a necessary diabetic diet/insulin regimen. I had procured statements from a diabetic specialist and several diabetic/dietetic associations, stating if WW did not receive a necessary diet/insulin regimen, he could die.

The State continuously delayed the case, going so far as to call up the diabetic specialist and threaten him not to get involved in the case. I was then deliberately transferred back to the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP). WW died a few weeks later.

James (Jimmy) Bennett wasted more than two years attempting to get medical to properly diagnose/treat his cervical spondylotic myelopathy. He ended up being confined to a wheelchair. In 2010, Jimmy filed his CRA Sec. 1983, Bennet v. CMS 2001 US Dist Lexis 159083; Bennett v. Miles 603 Fed Appx. 507 (8th Cir 2015). Unfortunately, Jimmy died in December of 2016, two months after defeating the State’s continuous delaying of his case (Bennett v. Corizon 2016 US Dis. Lexis 187257.

I am 78 years young. To my personal knowledge, I am the oldest prisoner in Missouri who has been under the loving care of the MDOC for more than 37 years. If I found it “necessary” to file a civil action over the State’s refusal to provide a pacemaker to correct my well-known arrhythmia it would take a year or more in order to exhaust state remedies due to the draconian Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)’s grievance exhaustion provision. Then another 6+ years to finally receive a trial date if I could get past summary judgment on the malpractice issue. This is not even considering appellate time, if needed. It is very doubtful I will survive another 9+ years, in order to benefit from federal action.

The State Courts are even more of a boondoggle. In order to file/prosecute a pro se malpractice case, an incarcerated prisoner is required to be examined by an outside doctor. Then that doctor has to issue a written opinion that states your present treatment/non-treatment, amounts to malpractice. RSMo Sec. 538.225.1 which has to be filed with the court within 90 days. How many prisoners can afford this, surely, not me?

The only rational relief for this Conceptual Medical Criminal Recklessness is for the federal courts to set up a Special Master to review all life-threatening medical claims. When needed, appoint a doctor to make the determination if an emergency injunction is needed to preserve the life of the pro se petitioner, prior to the standard court delays.

Far too many prisoners are being allowed to die or suffer IRREPARABLE harm, in order to accommodate the State’s denial of necessary medical treatment, solely to save the State money. Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp. 463 US 239, 245; 103 S. Ct. 2979, 2983 (1983).