'Natural' deaths

Newspaper exposes shocking conditions inside nation’s largest women’s prison

Former inmate Tanya Yelvington said she discovered a lump in her breast but did not get a timely biopsy at Lowell. By the time she did, the cancer had spread. She underwent a double mastectomy. (Screen Shot/Youtube)

An investigative series produced by the Miami Herald, “Beyond Punishment,” has shown that inmates at the nation’s largest women’s prison have suffered serious misdiagnoses, delays in treatment and medical neglect over the past decade. The Lowell Correctional Institution for women also failed to provide routine medications and delayed treatments for inmates with potentially fatal illnesses.

The prison has two doctors, two advanced nurse practitioners and about two dozen LPNs on staff to treat nearly 2,700 inmates, according to the Florida Department of Corrections — “dangerously understaffed,” according to the Herald, which looked at nearly five years of medical complaints, audits, surveys, and facility inspections at Lowell.

Since a private company, Corizon, was brought in to run the prison in 2013, healthcare has dropped significantly, the paper reports, continuing the trend of the past decade. The investigation cites a number of disturbing examples of neglect: “colonoscopies for inmates with unresolved bleeding that weren’t ordered; vaccinations and immunizations for hepatitis that were never initiated; oncology follow-ups that never happened; tests that were denied and postpartum exams that occurred four weeks late; no follow-up for an inmate with acute head trauma; ultrasounds that were ordered but not carried out; inmates with HIV never treated; inmates with histories of breast cancer deprived of their medication.”

Health inspections at the facility also found parasites in the water, and rancid meat served to the inmates in 2012, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records. In June 2014, the Department of Corrections received reports of worms crawling out of the bathroom sinks and toilets and, according to FDC’s inspection report, black larvae were found in the sinks, and the drains were “filthy’’ and filled with bugs and other parasites. County health inspections show that over the past two years, the prison kitchens have at times been plagued by rats, cockroaches and flies.

Families who have lost loved ones say that while all but one of the 57 deaths at Lowell in the past decade have been attributed to natural causes, many would not have died had they received adequate and timely medical care.

Read the full story and investigative series at The Miami Herald.

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