Inmate Sues N.J. Corrections Department for Failing To Inform Him of Hepatitis C Infection, Provide Treatment
A New Jersey prison inmate with hepatitis C on Friday filed a lawsuit claiming the state Department of Corrections and its medical contractor Correctional Medical Services did not notify him when he tested positive for the virus or provide treatment in a timely manner, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Jose Lopez, an inmate at Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County, N.J., has been in prison since 1983 and tested positive for hepatitis C in 1992, according to the suit. However, Lopez was not notified of his condition until 10 years later in 2002 as part of a state program that included the "mass notification" of 421 inmates with hepatitis C -- which came after an Inquirer investigation of how New Jersey's prison system handled inmates with the disease, according to the Inquirer. The prison began treating Lopez and other inmates for the disease in 2002, but Lopez did not respond to treatment, the Inquirer reports. Until 2002, "only a handful" of states paid for inmates' hepatitis C treatment, which can cost more than $15,000 per inmate each year, according to the Inquirer (Fazlollah, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/13). As of Dec. 4, 2003, about 1,407 inmates in New Jersey had tested positive for hepatitis C; about 40 to 60 inmates test positive for the disease every month, according to CMS officials (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/13). In 2002, New Jersey was treating one inmate for hepatitis C; however, the state's prisons currently are treating 79 inmates with the disease, the Inquirer reports. Lopez's lawyer Mark Frost said, "The conduct of prison officials and medical providers was outrageous. Not to inform Mr. Lopez of a life-threatening disease is tantamount to watching a person having a heart attack and sit idly by." The corrections department had no comment on the lawsuit, according to the Inquirer. A CMS spokesperson said he had not seen the lawsuit and he could not comment on it, the Inquirer reports (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.