HIV-Positive Former Inmate Alleges Nevada Prison Denied Him Medication
In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Karl Kurfis, a former Clark County, Nev., Detention Center inmate who has AIDS, alleged that prison doctors denied him access to "life-saving" HIV medications during his seven months of incarceration, leaving him "near death," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The $10 million lawsuit, which names the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Jerry Keller, prison Medical Clinic Director Dr. Harvey Hoffman, Prison Health Services and EMSA Correctional Care, which operates the prison's clinic, was filed on Kurfis' behalf by John Costo, an attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. Costo said that his client has "only a few months left to live" due to an "incurable" brain disease that resulted from his "inability to take his AIDS cocktail" during his incarceration from February 2000 to September 2000. After Kurfis' arrest on burglary charges, his doctor informed the prison's medical staff of his condition and asked that Kurfis be allowed to continue his antiretroviral combination therapy, a regimen Costo called "standard medical protocol" for HIV/AIDS patients. "The jail is constitutionally required to provide those medications," Costo added. Kurfis began receiving his regular medications, but Hoffman "cut off" his supply, telling him he did not "deserve" the drugs because he was a drug addict. Costo acknowledged that Kurfis had "some substance abuse issues in the past," but said "that fact doesn't change the necessity for pharmaceutical intervention. It doesn't change the patient's need to be on HIV meds." Kurfis saw another physician several months later and was allowed to resume his medications, according to the lawsuit. But Hoffman ceased the medications again. The document asserted that Hoffman denied the drugs to Kurfis because he had either a "personal animus" against him or "wanted to save the high cost of the medications for the benefit of his employers." According to the lawsuit, during the seven-month period that he was incarcerated, Kurfis received medication for "no more than" 14 days, leaving him with "substantial, indeed mortal, injury" to his health. "Interruption of the drug regimen for even a short period of time can cause [HIV] to become resistant to the drugs being used, as well as to other drugs potentially available for treatment," the lawsuit stated. Kurfis filed the suit in "hopes that this lawsuit will serve as a mechanism to ensure that other people don't go through what he's had to endure," Costo said. The police department declined to comment on the pending litigation, and representatives for Keller and Hoffman could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit is one of "dozens" filed in the state against EMSA, which was acquired by Prison Health Services in January 1999. "One wonders how many lawsuits like this it will take before people who are in positions of authority do the right thing so we won't have to deal with more tragedies," ACLU Nevada Executive Director Gary Peck said (Thevenot, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.