Four Department of Corrections prisoners have filed a lawsuit against the state agency, alleging they were denied care for their medical conditions.
The complaint lists four prisoners whose medical needs were allegedly neglected: Daniel Haldane, 49, incarcerated at Monroe Correctional Complex; Wendel Johnson, 61, at Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane; Timothy Martin, 47, also at Monroe; and LeeShawn Redic, 34, at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.
The lawsuit seeks class action status.
The complaint zeroes in on the department’s Care Review Committee, a committee of medical professionals from across the state who approve or deny medical care for prisoners. The committee typically denies or approves treatment in 15 to 20 cases in less than two hours’ time, the complaint says.
The complaint also alleges the committee members have little familiarity with the patient, but frequently override the clinical recommendations of the patient’s treating DOC practitioner and outside specialists.
A majority vote, the complaint says, determines whether a prisoner receives the requested treatment.
The complaint also questions the expertise and judgment of those reviewing the requests for care.
“(Care Review Committee) members typically do not examine a patient or even review his or her medical records before voting to approve or deny the care being recommended by the treating medical provider,” the complaint alleges.
In their response, filed Dec. 21, the defendants deny the allegation that most requests for treatment were decided by the committee, adding that between December 2012 and October 2015, 83 percent of the requests were decided at the facility level, and 98 percent of those requests were approved.
The response concedes that most of the committee’s meetings last about an hour and a half, but denies that all decisions are made by majority vote of the committee. Patient care, the response says, is only determined by a majority vote in “most instances,” and “if a specific intervention is not approved, usually alternative care is recommended.”
The response concedes that some committee members include care providers “who have not performed an examination of the patient.”
“However,” the response adds, “case discussions frequently include participation by multiple providers who have provided direct care to the patient.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit reportedly suffer from a variety of conditions: Haldane, at Monroe, the complaint says, suffers from stage-3 kidney failure and, due to an undiagnosed condition, regularly passes large kidney stones. Martin, also at Monroe, reportedly suffers from pain from an early-2013 hernia surgery.
At Stafford Creek, Redic, according to the complaint, was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia in 2009 that still causes chronic pain. At Airway Heights, Johnson’s condition causes pain, tingling and a cold sensation to his right wrist, making it difficult to “write, lift objects and sleep.”
All prisoners, the lawsuit says, have been denied requests for treatment.
The complaint contends that Hammond and Pacholke’s “deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs” of the prisoners constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
In addition to its request to the judge to make the case a class action lawsuit, the complaint asks that Hammond and Pacholke no longer be allowed to deny medical care “without reasonable medical justification” to prisoners, and that the department pay all prisoners’ attorney fees.
Columbia Legal Services, an organization that specializes in legal representation for low-income clients, filed the lawsuit’s original complaint on Nov. 17 in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington. Also listed as co-counsel on the complaint are attorneys with the Public Interest Law Group and MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, both of which are also based in Seattle.
Nick Allen, a staff attorney with Columbia Legal Services, said last week of the DOC’s committee-approval process, “It’s a bad system. There’s not necessarily the expertise or access to information that should be considered when making a decision.”