Healthcare Access

‘You’re Going to Let Me Die From This’: Prisoners Fight to Access a Hepatitis-C Cure

January 25, 2019 | The Nation | Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

On May 15, 2017, after serving 37 years, David Maldonado was released from prison. He had been sentenced to life for a murder he committed when he was 16. But for Maldonado, getting out was about more than freedom; his release might have also saved his life. In 1997, Maldonado was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C—a disease, now curable, that the state of Pennsylvania had refused to treat. “Society really didn’t care whether I lived or died,” he told me recently.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that infects and inflames the liver; it’s spread through blood, most often via intravenous drug use. Between 75 and 85 percent of those infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to liver scarring, liver cancer, cirrhosis, and death. It’s the most deadly infectious disease in the United States, killing around 20,000 people a year—more than the next 60 infectious diseases combined.

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PRESS RELEASE: Court rules Incarcerated Woman’s Lawsuit Challenging Deprivation of Pain Medication and Mobility Devices May Proceed.

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and Abolitionist Law Center

For Immediate Release

December 31, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA. On Friday, The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected motions to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and medical staff violated the rights of an incarcerated woman who is disabled. The case is being litigated by the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) on behalf of Ms. Tracey Nadirah Shaw, who is currently imprisoned at State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs (SCI Cambridge Springs). Ms. Shaw brought the lawsuit after the DOC and medical staff violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment and ignored protections guaranteed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by denying her necessary pain medication and mobility accommodations, including a wheelchair, for over two years.

Ms. Shaw suffers from chronic medical conditions that cause intense neuropathic pain in her back and legs. For years, she was prescribed medication by DOC staff that stabilized her pain and allowed her to engage in daily tasks, including janitorial labor. In 2015, without the benefit of an examination or consultation, medical staff terminated Ms. Shaw’s effective pain management prescription, which resulted in debilitating pain and substantial reduction in her mobility. Ms. Shaw began to depend on additional assistive devices and accommodations to attempt to navigate life at SCI-Cambridge Springs. However, DOC staff took away her wheelchair, depriving her of the ability to travel the extended distances to educational classes, worship programs, and the dining hall. The DOC then used her worsening medical condition to temporarily remove her from her janitorial duties, resulting in a loss of essential income.

Ms. Shaw lost over twenty pounds because she was not able to physically walk to the cafeteria to get her meals and eventually, she suffered a broken leg requiring surgery and the insertion of six screws when she fell trying to walk with the absence of a wheelchair.

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5,000 inmates with Hepatitis C sued Pa. prisons. Now, they’re on their way to getting treatment

November 20, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 2013, a cure for hepatitis C — a chronic viral infection that, if untreated, can lead to fatal liver disease — was brought to market. But who would get the $100,000 lifesaving treatment? That's been a subject of political and legal battles ever since.

In May 2017, the Wolf administration announced that Pennsylvania would expand Medicaid coverage of the treatment to anyone with hepatitis C, instead of treating only those with signs of liver damage.

Now, through a legal settlement filed for approval Monday in federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, approximately 5,000 incarcerated Pennsylvanians who have hepatitis C would also have access to direct-acting antiviral drugs, which are effective in about 95 percent of cases.

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PRESS RELEASE: Proposed Landmark Settlement Re: Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis C

November 19, 2018 | PA Institutional Law Project and David Rudovsky, Esq.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PROPOSED LANDMARK SETTLEMENT ON ACCESS TO MEDICAL TREATMENT WOULD PROVIDE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR PRISONERS WITH CHRONIC HEPATITIS C IN THE PENNSYLVANIA DOC

Contacts:
David Rudovsky, Esq.
: 215-925-4400, drudovsky@klrawphila.com
Su Ming Yeh, Esq. (PA Institutional Law Project): 215-925-2966, smyeh@pailp.org

Philadelphia, PA, November 19, 2018:

Plaintiffs’ counsel announced a proposed landmark settlement in a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that would provide much-needed medical treatment for thousands of prisoners with Chronic Hepatitis C.

“Chronic Hepatitis C is the most lethal of all viral illnesses in the United States. In its early stages, it can cause painful and debilitating conditions of fatigue; muscle, joint, and bone pain; and depression. Left untreated, the virus will eventually cause liver failure, high risks of liver cancer, and death. ‘The new DAA treatment is highly effective in curing the disease with a simple regimen of pills and without serious side effects,’ explained Su Ming Yeh, Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. ‘The health of thousands of prisoners will be improved now that they will have access to this potentially life-saving medication.’”

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Chimenti Hepatitis C Class Action Settlement

November 19, 2018 | Settlement Agreement and General Release

Please click HERE to access the Class Action Settlement in Salvatore Chimenti, et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, et.al., regarding access to highly effective medication for treatment of chronic Hepatitis C.

‘This is not ordinary’: 5 inmate suicides in 3 months at Graterford

April 5, 2018 | Nina Feldman | WHYY Public Radio

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is under pressure to act after five inmates at Graterford Prison have died by suicide in the last three months.

“This is not ordinary, this many incidents and this short a time,” said Pennsylvania DOC Secretary John Wetzel.

The latest inmate, 58-year-old Roland Alston, died by suicide last week at the Montgomery County facility where Alston had been serving a life sentence since 1984.

Read more and listen to the radio piece here →

Graterford Prisons Hires Expert In Response To Inmate Suicides

March 30, 2018 | Cheri Gregg | CBS Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Five inmates at Graterford prison have taken their own lives in the past three months. Prison officials have brought in an expert to help.

Listen to the CBS audio news report here →

Was Graterford inmate on suicide watch when he took his life? Superintendent is out, but answers scarce

March 15, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | Philadelphia Daily News

Bobbie London wants answers.

The Parkesburg resident has been trying for a month to find out the truth about what happened to her son, Christopher Gilchrist, who died at Graterford Prison on Feb. 14. London says a coroner informed her that Gilchrist was on 24-hour suicide watch at the time, though the Department of Corrections (DOC) has not confirmed it. Gilchrist, who was 31, used a sheet and towel to hang himself, according to the Montgomery County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“I don’t understand how someone on suicide watch has the time to get that much done,” London said.

Gilchrist’s death was one of four suicides at Graterford in a span of five weeks, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. By comparison, the entire DOC has counted seven suicides per year on average since 2000.

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