The state of care

prison2When asked to describe the state of medical care in Kentucky prisons, Belzley has one word: poor.

“It’s rare to find a first-rate doctor or nurse doing first-rate work for inmates for what the state or a county is willing to pay… We try to save money with everything, so we hire third-party medical companies to take care of inmates in Kentucky prisons and county jails. Problem is, typically these third-party providers are for-profit corporations, and for-profit corporations make money by maximizing income and minimizing cost… They scrimp on personnel, on medications, on sending people to the local emergency room when they’re experiencing obvious medical emergencies.”

One strategy, according to Belzley, is to employ part-time licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to do all the work under the supervision of a physician who rarely visits. The LPNs find themselves diagnosing and prescribing treatment for illnesses they are not trained (or even legally allowed) to diagnose or treat.

When it comes to specific cases, like James Embry, Belzley is practically rabid.

“I mean, how do you watch a man starve himself to death? Or in the case of Clifford Warfield, an inmate at KSP, who died of gangrenous intestines after the doctor there diagnosed him as ‘faking’? Really? How exactly do you ‘fake’ the classic signs of the bowel obstruction that caused Clifford’s death? … What idiot would put an inmate arrested for a drug offense, and who is obviously very impaired, in isolation ‘to sleep it off,’ and not call for medical assistance when you can’t wake him up? What kind of moron would admit a diabetic to a jail and never order him insulin, only to have him die a couple of days later from diabetic ketoacidosis? What knucklehead would allow a human being to go through the unmedicated torment of alcohol withdrawal and delirium tremens in an isolation cell and never summon medical help, only to find him lying dead in a pool of vomit? These are all cases I’ve handled. It happens too often. It’s happening right now. Somewhere.”

The Warfield case Belzley refers to is, by any standard, horrific.

Dan Canon

Dan Canon

Dan Canon is a Louisville civil rights attorney and a musician who lives in Clarksville. Dan blogs at Conflicts Check.


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