CoreCivic is not just failing to handle the ongoing scabies outbreak at Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility, a new memo alleges - it consistently provides substandard medical care across the board, putting inmates' lives at risk.
The memo accompanies a letter from attorney Gary Blackburn to Dr. Bill Paul, the director of Metro Department of Health. Blackburn has filed three class-action lawsuits over the scabies epidemic, one each on behalf of male inmates, female inmates and court employees who contracted the infestation from their interactions with inmates.
In the letter, Blackburn says the accusations "need to be investigated by your Department, by the Sheriff, and possibly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ... The persistent and consistent nature of these accusations strongly suggest that consideration should be given as to whether CoreCivic should continue in its relationship with the Metropolitan Government."
And the allegations in the three-page memo are indeed disturbing. The listed complaints include:
* Sick-call responses are taking two weeks to one month before inmates are allowed to see a nurse. Referrals to doctors take much longer.
* CoreCivic is obligated by contract to hire staff in charge of infection control but has not had anyone in that position for at least one year, and possibly for as much as four years.
* Staff does not screen newly admitted inmates for diseases, scabies or other parasites, and is refusing to review the medical records of inmates transferred to the facility who have "special health care needs."
* The prison's mental health physician walked off the job, and no inmates were prescribed anything for a month. Relatedly, the pharmacy nurse was absent for two to three weeks, during which no medications were reordered.
* Since the filing of the first lawsuit, CoreCivic has refused to allow inmates to speak with nurses during pill call, and inmates who miss pill call are not allowed to later get their medications.
* Personnel without medical licensure are refusing to comply with a doctor's orders or fill prescriptions as written, and nonmedical staff has instructed medical staff to refuse to prescribe medication.
* Inmates in segregation are not receiving medications as prescribed.
* Insulin from a used syringe has been re-injected into the vial, and used lancets have been recapped and placed in the same container with new lancets.
* There is a male inmate who requires the use of a colostomy bag, who has not received sufficient replacement bags and is forced to rinse the bag out in the sink that is used by all of the inmates.
* Nurses are giving medications to certain inmates to sell to other inmates.
* Medical staff has forged documentation and has forced inmates to sign forms stating that they had been treated for scabies when they had not.
* Employees who have reported issues regarding lack of medical care for inmates and lack of training in internal procedures have been reprimanded, threatened with discipline, or intimidated.
A court filing by Blackburn in late July alleged that at least 17 CoreCivic prison employees have developed scabies and that the ones who have filed workers' compensation claims have been formally reprimanded in retaliation. The memo states that additionally, CoreCivic has refused to pay for or reimburse any treatment its employees have received for scabies.
In his letter to Paul, Blackburn blasts the health department for its failure to intervene, writing, "The conclusions which may be drawn regarding your Department's work are that your employees are not sufficiently trained competently to supervise the provision of medical care in this facility; that they are properly trained but indifferent to their tasks; or, that they have been intentionally mislead [sic] or co-opted by CoreCivic. I trust that you can confirm for us that the latter is the correct inference."
And damningly, despite the lawsuits, despite the negative publicity all summer, it seems that a year after it first started, the scabies outbreak in the prison is no closer to ending. On Wednesday two current inmates self-filed separate federal lawsuits over the infestation. The first, filed by Terry Dennis, says his scabies was so bad he bled, yet it took two months for him to get the first dose of medication. Dennis writes that he still has scabies, but medical staff have ignored his pleas for further treatment.
The second lawsuit, filed by Jeremie P. Dobson, states that staff made inmates sign "papers stating that were [sic] not itching or we would be taken to segregation." Dobson says one doctor "left and refused to treat patients that had scabies because he did not want to catch it."
Metro Department of Health officials and Mayor Megan Barry's office declined to comment on the memo.
"The Mayor's Office is continuing to work with the Metro Department of Health to seek corrective actions and reimbursement from CoreCivic over the scabies outbreak at their facility," says Barry's spokesperson Sean Braisted. "We will not be commenting on Mr. Blackburn's ongoing litigation against CoreCivic in this matter."
"The Health Department continues to evaluate the processes and on a corrective action plan for CoreCivic in relation to the scabies outbreak at their facility," adds health department spokesperson Brian Todd.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who was one of the officials copied on the letter and who questioned Metro's contract with CoreCivic earlier this summer, said the new allegations are unfortunate.
"I look forward to Metro's leaders taking immediate, appropriate action with respect to both," Clemmons said. "Given the alleged harm suffered and posed, it would be reasonable for Nashville's citizens to expect that a thorough investigation of the facts and a legal evaluation of Metro's contract with CCA would be at the top of its agenda."
Metro's contract with CoreCivic to operate the prison ends in 2020. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said in June that he's open to running the prison with his own staff, but that he'd likely need a year to get everything in place to do so.
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