Former New Jersey Inmate Sues State Over Lack of Treatment for Hepatitis C
A former New Jersey prison inmate on Wednesday filed a lawsuit charging the New Jersey Department of Corrections and its health provider, Correctional Medical Services, with medical malpractice for allegedly withholding treatment from inmates with hepatitis C because of the cost, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In the lawsuit, Walter Bennett, who spent 10 years in New Jersey prisons, claims prison medical staff first notified him of his hepatitis C diagnosis last summer, two weeks before he was to be released and two years after his blood tests began showing possible signs of the infection. Bennett said that he was told at the time about "abnormal" results from his tests, but that doctors did not make him aware that the results could indicate hepatitis C. "They told me when I was leaving. It's negligence," Bennett said. The lawsuit, which is the first to seek class-action status on behalf of all former and present state prisoners with the virus who have not received treatment, alleges that CMS intentionally "refused" treatment for inmates "in order to receive a larger profit from the fees received from New Jersey's Corrections Department." The lawsuit also accuses CMS and the Department of Corrections of failing to make "adequate plans for the screening, counseling, evaluation and treatment" of inmates with hepatitis. Rosemary Pinto, Bennett's lawyer, said that state inmates should have received care similar to that of the care provided in federal prisons. Pinto estimates that as many as 2,000 inmates would qualify for such care. The Inquirer reports that several other lawyers are considering filing suit against New Jersey prisons. New Jersey Department of Corrections Spokesperson Deirdre Fedkenheuer said her agency "does not comment on pending legislation." Earlier this month, the Inquirer reported that New Jersey prisons had failed to inform hundreds of inmates of their hepatitis C diagnoses. However, according to a recent state medical audit, all 1,100 prisoners in the state with hepatitis C have been notified (Fazlollah, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.