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Suit filed over medical care at jail

Published October 26, 2005

TAMPA - A former inmate at the Hillsborough County jail has sued the company once responsible for inmate medical care, alleging that the company's staff blocked her from treatment and as a result she went blind.

Aretha Jackson accused Prison Health Services Inc. of cruel and unusual punishment and failing to provide necessary medical care, according to the suit filed Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Jackson was an inmate at the county jail from Aug. 16, 2004, until June 1, the suit says. Court records show she had been charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

She was an HIV patient with vision deterioration linked to the virus, the suit says. She was evaluated by Dr. Todd Berger, a retinal specialist, on Oct. 13, 2004, who noted, among other complaints, one week with no vision in the right eye, the suit says. He ordered lab work and scheduled another appointment for two days later, the suit says.

Instead, the jail "and/or the employees or agents of PHS" ignored the follow-up plan, the suit alleges.

The doctor called the jail on Oct. 21, 2004, to ask about the test results and when Jackson would be brought in, the suit says. He left a message asking for a call back.

She was not brought to Berger's office until Oct. 27, 2004, the suit says. Meanwhile, prescriptions he had ordered were not filled, and no treatment was administered. During that time, her vision worsened.

Berger spoke with the jail's medical director, Scott Kennedy, about the importance of immediate treatment, the suit says.

The jail's nurses and medical staff were untrained and unfamiliar "or indifferent" to the proper care and management of HIV patients with serious vision problems, the suit says, and did not have proper HIV treatment policies and procedures.

PHS refused or failed to allow Jackson follow-up services by Berger or another qualified doctor or otherwise failed to follow Berger's medical orders, the suit alleges, and as a result, Jackson lost her eyesight.

PHS officials could not be reached for comment.

The suit accuses Sheriff David Gee's predecessor, Cal Henderson, of contracting with PHS despite the company's poor record. It also accuses Col. David Parrish, who is in charge of the jail, of failing to supervise the medical staff despite its published problems.

Late last year, Kimberly Grey filed a lawsuit that is still pending saying she pleaded for medical help for 12 hours before giving birth to a baby boy in March 2004, over an infirmary toilet. Grey had complications for five days, she said. Jail officials did not call 911 until the baby arrived. The baby later died.

A yearlong examination of Prison Health Services by the New York Times published this year revealed repeated instances of flawed and sometimes fatal medical care in other parts of the country.

Prison Health Services was awarded a $12-million contract by Hillsborough County in 2002 to provide care for Hillsborough inmates. The Sheriff runs the county's jail facilities.

But PHS is no longer doing business at the jail infirmaries. The sheriff's office awarded the contract last month to Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.

[Last modified October 26, 2005, 00:44:15]

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