HIV-Positive Alabama Prison Inmates Say State Violating Court Settlement Requiring Better Medical Care
Attorneys representing 240 HIV-positive prison inmates in Alabama on Thursday filed a motion to have U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre hold the state in contempt of court for violating a settlement that required the state Department of Corrections to provide better medical care in prisons, the Birmingham News reports (Crowder, Birmingham News, 2/19). The department in April 2004 settled a 2002 federal lawsuit filed by HIV-positive inmates at the Limestone Correctional Facility. Under the settlement -- which was signed by the department; Birmingham-based NaphCare, the prison system's former medical contractor; and plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit -- the department is required to provide various improvements in living conditions and medical care for the state's HIV-positive inmates. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights in August 2003 released a report on the 300-person HIV unit at Limestone as part of the lawsuit. The 125-page report provided a detailed case summary of the deaths of 38 HIV-positive inmates between 1999 and 2002 and concluded that the unit's medical care system was substandard. Under the settlement, the department is required to allow a medical consultant to monitor the conditions of the HIV unit on a quarterly basis for two years and must hire a full-time nurse to coordinate infection control and inmate medical care (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/10/04).
According to the motion, two doctors hired as part of the settlement have resigned, including Dr. Valda Chijide, who wrote memos detailing "dozens" of medical "shortcomings" in the state prison system and "chaotic" record-keeping by prison officials, according to the News. Chijide said that she was unable to care for inmates because the medical unit was disorganized and prison officials overruled her medical decisions, according to the News. Currently, only one physician cares for more than 2,200 state inmates, including HIV-positive inmates, according to the News. A supervisor from Prison Health Services -- the department's new medical contractor -- also has been caring for inmates, according to PHS Medical Director Dr. Carl Keldie, the News reports. "The state is ultimately the one who is responsible for the medical care, and the state should be forcing PHS to implement the settlement agreement that we've reached," SCHR attorney Joshua Lipman said, adding, "What they've done so far is pretty appalling." Before filing the motion, SCHR attorneys sent four letters to the corrections department concerning settlement violations, but it did not respond, according to Lipman. Dr. Joseph Bick, the settlement monitor, has visited the prison several times and has filed two reports detailing problems with medical care, according to the News. Corrections spokesperson Brian Corbett said that complying with the settlement is a "priority," adding, "Maybe we haven't gotten there yet, but the DOC is making a good-faith effort to do so." Keldie said that PHS has had a more difficult time hiring doctors and nurses than they anticipated, according to the News (Birmingham News, 2/19). No HIV-positive inmates have died since the settlement was reached, according to the AP/Tuscaloosa News (AP/Tuscaloosa News, 2/19).