Lawsuit alleging 'grossly deficient' medical care at La. prison heads to trial

Inmates have suffered unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death, the lawsuit alleges


By Joe Gyan Jr.
The Advocate

BATON ROUGE — The medical care provided to more than 6,000 inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary will be under the microscope for the next few weeks in Baton Rouge federal court.

A lawsuit claiming "grossly deficient" medical care at the Angola maximum-security prison heads to trial Tuesday. Lawyers for the inmates say their clients suffer cruel and unusual punishment. Countless inmates already have suffered unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death, the lawsuit alleges.

The state corrections department's then-medical director, Dr. Raman Singh, responded the day after the suit was filed by saying Angola prisoners receive quality health care. Singh, who was fired in 2017 amid sexual harassment allegations, acknowledged that Angola's 6,000-plus inmate population is challenging because of the number of elderly prisoners and those with chronic diseases.

The suit claims Angola’s medical care grew worse when Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which used to serve prisoners with medical emergencies, was closed during the reorganization of the state’s charity hospital system.

"Prisoners report horror story after horror story: a man denied medical attention four times during a stroke, leaving him blind and paralyzed; a man denied access to a specialist for four years while his throat cancer advanced; a blind man denied even a cane for 16 years," the suit states.

"In many cases, only the specter of legal action has spurred Defendants to provide long-delayed medical care to Plaintiffs," the suit added.

A dozen Angola inmates sued the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, DPSC Secretary James LeBlanc and Angola's wardens.

The suit alleges delays in evaluation, treatment and access to specialty care; denial of medically necessary treatments such as surgeries, medication, medical devices and physical therapy; inappropriately managed medications; poor follow-up care; and a lack of qualified staff.

The suit says Angola inmate James Johnson's March 2015 death is a tragic illustration of the “inevitable consequences" of denied care. Johnson was treated for multiple myeloma — malignant tumor of the bone marrow — until 2012, when the defendants told him the treatment was too costly to continue, the suit says.

Instead of chemotherapy, he received steroids that caused his legs to swell and his blood sugar to remain high. His cancer progressed to the point where he could not have a broken arm set due to the deterioration of his shoulder. He was placed in hospice care in June 2014. Before his death nine months later, Johnson said his doctors made rounds once every one to two months, the suit claims.

The suit seeks an injunction that would bring the prison in line with constitutional standards in the delivery of medical care.

Singh, in his statement following the suit's filing, said Angola meets established national standards, including very specific health care standards.

Angola is no longer under the oversight of a federal consent decree as it was in the late 1990s.

Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick will preside over the trial.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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