The Virginia Department of Corrections is facing a federal lawsuit claiming it fails to provide health care to female prisoners in Fluvanna County. A Charlottesville-based group of attorneys says women are dying because of it.
The attorneys from the Legal Aid Justice Center say they've tracked hundreds of complaints from inmates at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women over the past three years.
Those attorneys held a press conference to announce the class action suit filed in federal court in Charlottesville Tuesday morning. It involves five women who are currently incarcerated in Fluvanna County. They claim the prison and a contractor are denying proper medical care to inmates in order to maximize profit.
The women are not asking for money from this lawsuit. They simply want the commonwealth to ensure its contractors are providing proper and timely health care to prisoners in Fluvanna County and statewide.
"People are absolutely dying. They're dying needlessly and it's costing the taxpayers money," said attorney Deborah Golden.
The 46-page lawsuit shares the stories of five current prisoners at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
Golden said, "They have to go over and over and over again just to get the most minimal access to care."
The lawsuit alleges the Virginia Department of Corrections and its Florida-based health care contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, failed to provide proper medical care and timely treatment to prisoners at Fluvanna.
Legal Aid Justice Center Litigation Director Abigail Turner said, "Often, if they see a doctor, there's a failure to diagnose or to treat their illnesses."
One inmate claims a prison doctor rejected her prescription because the medicine was too expensive. Another alleges her complaints were completely ignored.
"She has a lump in her abdomen that hasn't been diagnosed," Golden said. "She's just been told, 'don't worry about it, let us know if it gets worse.' And when she tells them they say tell us if it gets worse again."
The Virginia Department of Corrections issued the following statement to NBC29 Tuesday in response to the suit:
"It is the policy of the Virginia Department of Corrections not to comment on pending litigation.
The VADOC is constitutionally bound to provide all the medically necessary and adequate health care needs of every offender. This means we are bound to preserve life, reduce deterioration of health and to follow a community standard of care.
Many offenders arrive in our system with multiple medical conditions that they have developed over time and have often been neglected. Once health care is made available to them, they often want immediate cures, despite their years of self-neglect. If a doctor or doctors feel a procedure is necessary to preserve life, reduce deterioration of health and to follow a community standard of care, we will provide it."
But that's not the story attorney Brenda Castaneda's heard for the past three years.
"It's shocking," she said. "If we had only heard a fraction of the stories, it would be shocking to hear the things we hear."
Castaneda says the women she's interviewed behind bars simply want to save lives.
"I've, multiple times, been told ‘I just want this to get better even if I'm leaving a month or a year from now. I hope I'm able to help other people by sharing my stories,'" she said.
The Legal Aid Justice Center says it tried to avoid a lawsuit by sending a letter of demands to the department of corrections 10 days ago. Attorneys say that was ignored.
The defendants - the state, the contractor, and the prison warden and doctors - will have 30 days to file a response to this suit.
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