Prison “health care” is a misnomer. Every year hundreds of inmates, yes hundreds, die from extreme medical neglect!. It is a thorough explanation of systemic reasons why so many inmates die at the hands of “medical personnel”. Some practitioners with disciplinary histories bounce from state to state.
I have had to crop the article severely to include it in my newsletter, but it is a must read if you have a loved one in prison. Part of the article chronicles the story of inmate Jerry Armbruster, who lives in pain and is lucky to be alive after the nearly unbelievable medical neglect and screw-ups he endured.
I SAW what goes on in prison for five years, and for eight more years now I have read countless articles about prison “health care”. And every week I get a call from someone whose loved one is seriously ill or dying in prison and nobody is doing a damn thing about it! Fortunately, I know what can be done … it is what I did to save lives when I was in: READ How to Force Proper Health Care in Prison
Excerpts from the Article:
Even after a major class action suit required Illinois to revamp its prison healthcare system, doctors whose alleged neglect resulted in major injury or death still remain on the prison system payroll.
Jerry Armbruster went to the doctor in May 2014, complaining of tingling and numbness in his arms and hands. He told the doctor how pain in his legs was making it hard to walk, too. “I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint it,” Armbruster said. He says he was told by the doctor that he was just dehydrated and if he drank more water he would be OK. Two weeks later, Armbruster was back; the pain and numbness had gotten worse. He now had no grip in his right hand. It took him five minutes to write his name on the paperwork given to him at the appointment. Over the following weeks Armbruster went to the doctor repeatedly, yet at each visit, medical staff would not refer him to a specialist.
Armbruster had no option for changing doctors or getting a second opinion: He could only see the doctor assigned to Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center, a 763-bed prison in East St. Louis, where he was serving a three-year sentence for burglary and aggravated battery.
Doctors with histories of medical errors or misconduct are hired to work in prisons throughout the US. Many continue treating prisoner patients even after red flags have been raised around treatment. When private companies take over healthcare in prisons, their contracts force corrections agencies to cede control of hiring and firing individual physicians, and obscure the lines of responsibility when something goes wrong.
Even when a doctor’s mistake results in a permanent disability, prisoners have limited options to seek better treatment or push for accountability.
Armbruster did not know he had signs of spinal cord compression, a dangerous condition that can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord, especially if not treated early. Though he spent the final five months of his sentence begging for medical staff to help him, relief did not come until after his release. Ten days after leaving prison, Armbruster found himself on the operating table, a surgeon racing to alleviate the pressure on his spinal cord.
Armbruster was only one in a string of patients who allege that they suffered after their prison doctor, Bharat Shah, missed critical symptoms and misdiagnosed common conditions. Just weeks after Armbruster’s emergency surgery, another prisoner arrived at the prison on a strict antibiotic regimen to keep a mild infection under control. Yet for months, the prisoner later told the federal court in Illinois, Shah refused to give the prisoner the medication, resulting in a severe ankle infection that had to be surgically removed. Months later, another prisoner at the same prison suffered nearly identical symptoms as Armbruster; Shah allegedly refused to treat him.
In court filings, Shah denied that he had provided negligent care. Armbruster’s case is still open, but the other two have been dismissed, one because the prisoner failed to complete the prison’s grievance process before filing his suit and the other because the plaintiff missed a court date.
The continued symptoms have forced Armbruster to get creative in his daily life. He started keeping spare cell phones around because his phone repeatedly slipped from his numb fingers and broke on the ground. “I always try to keep my mind on something other than the pain,” Armbruster said.
In the first year after his surgery, when his youngest daughter, then 3, would visit his home, he did his best to keep up with her, but found her too quick. He tied a rope around her waist and around his own, so she wouldn’t get too far away when she ran and played.
Armbruster now lives in an RV near his girlfriend’s house in Cottage Hills, Illinois. With few organizations interested in hiring someone with a felony record and physical limitations, finding work has proved near impossible. He relies on the generosity of his friends and family to keep him afloat. Armbruster can’t draw and can’t work on cars but does his best to keep busy.
“There’s nothing I can do. I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is,” he said. “I know it’s not gonna get better.”