Critics Return to Court Charging Poor Medical Care for Virginia Prisoners

Jun 8, 2018

It’s been more than two years since the Virginia Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit by pledging to provide adequate medical care to about 12-hundred women at the Fluvanna Correctional Center, but critics say nothing has changed.  On Monday, the Legal Aid Justice Center will ask a judge to find the department in contempt of court.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

It’s been nearly a year since 38-year-old Deanna Niece died at the Fluvanna Correctional Center – just three weeks before she was supposed to be released. At the Legal Aid Justice Center, attorney Angela Ciolfi says she might have been saved if the state provided adequate medical care.

“She actually collapsed in the yard the morning of her death," Ciolfi says. " She was assessed by a licensed practical nurse, and in response to her difficulty breathing and her rubbery legs was only advised to drink plenty of water.”

That night, she suffered a seizure and died. Now, Ciolfi says, other women at the prison are worried.

“They live in constant fear and anxiety that they might be next," she claims. "Even if you’re not sick but you have a medical emergency, life at the prison is really harrowing from a medical standpoint.” 

Niece was one of a dozen women who’ve passed away – many unexpectedly -- since a federal court issued a consent decree in which state officials agreed to fix a broken medical system. Critics allege mismanagement of medications, delays and failures in diagnosis and treatment.

They say the contractor hired to provide medical services is not reimbursed for the cost of care but is, instead, paid a flat fee for each inmate.  That means the company will make more money if it provides fewer medical services. The Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation, but in legal documents it argues the agreement was expected to be implemented over time, that new standards are subjective and the doctor appointed to oversee them does not think Fluvanna is violating the original court order.