New Health Provider for Alabama Prisons Will Offer Better Treatment for Inmates With HIV, Hepatitis C, Officials Say
A new health services contract between the Alabama Department of Corrections and Brentwood, Tenn.-based Prison Health Services to provide health care for prison inmates went into effect on Monday, the Birmingham News reports. The three-year contract -- which is worth $142 million and replaces a $29.5 million a year contract with Birmingham-based NaphCare -- will provide better treatment for inmates with HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic illnesses and will include greater accountability and better staffing, according to Ronald Cavanaugh, director of treatment for the corrections department. The department is facing at least four class-action lawsuits alleging that inadequate care was provided to inmates with chronic diseases such as HIV (Crowder, Birmingham News, 11/2). Alabama is the only state in the country that segregates HIV-positive inmates from other inmates. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights in August released a report on the medical treatment and living conditions of the 300-person HIV unit at Limestone Correctional Facility as part of the lawsuit, Leatherwood et al. v. Campbell, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in March by the center against the Alabama Department of Corrections and NaphCare. The 125-page report, written by Dr. Stephen Tabet, an infectious disease expert, provides a detailed case summary of the deaths of 38 HIV-positive inmates between 1999 and 2002 and concludes that the unit's medical care system is substandard. Tabet in the report says that in nearly all of the 38 deaths he investigated, the "death was preceded by a failure to provide proper medical care or treatment" and that all of the deaths were caused by "preventable illnesses" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/27).
New Contract Includes Hepatitis C Treatment
The new contract with PHS includes treatment and prevention programs for hepatitis C, according to Cavanaugh. The programs will be Alabama's first efforts to treat inmates with hepatitis C and will cost the state $3 million to $8 million per year, Cavanaugh said. Cavanaugh estimated that 40% of Alabama inmates are infected with hepatitis C -- a higher percentage than inmates nationwide -- and prison officials are concerned that inmates will spread the disease upon release. Officials have a "window" for early treatment when the inmate is incarcerated; when treatment is started early, the virus is more likely to be cured, according to the News. Cavanaugh said that prison health workers will screen inmates for the disease and choose a "couple hundred" inmates as candidates for treatment. Hepatitis C treatment costs approximately $25,000 per individual per year, according to the News (Birmingham News, 11/2).