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Tennessee: Staph Outbreak, Delayed Treatment, Death Highlight Prison Healthcare Problems

An outbreak of staph infection, the delayed treatment of a brain tumor, and a preventable heart attack are just a few of the problems Tennessee prisoners have faced while in the care of private contractors.

In September 2003, three unidentified prisoners were infected with the Staphylococcus bacteria at the Silverdale Workhouse, operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The outbreak prompted prison officials to relocate 200 prisoners to other housing areas and to institute a number of new hygeine measures.

County Mayor Claude Ramsey told commissioners on September 17, 2003, that the prison was being scrubbed and that protective measures had been put in place. These measures included requiring prisoners who lived in the same dorms as the infected prisoners to turn in all clothes, bed sheets, towels and personal hygiene items, including razors and soap.

Other prisoners were ordered to wash their hands frequently, store open food items in sealed plastic containers, have laundry and bedding sanitized, and to immediately report any skin lesions to prison officials. Readers should note that the Silverdale staph outbreak is part of a national epidemic. [See the November 2003 PLN].

Prisoners in the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility, a Tennessee prison hospital under contract with Correctional Medical Services (CMS), face even more severe health threats.

DeBerry prisoner Terry Crouch began telling prison physicians' assistants in 2001 that he was suffering excruciating headaches and blurred vision, but it was more than a year before he was properly diagnosed. Crouch says he couldn't keep food down and that he dropped weight "like it was water running off of me." Medical personnel ordered gastrointestinal tests and treated his symptoms with over-the-counter antacids.

Crouch's mother believed the problem was something else. Succumbing to her repeated requests, doctors finally performed a brain scan and found a half-dollar sized tumor pressing on Crouch's optic nerve and pituitary gland.

Nashville attorney David Raybin, who helped convince CMS to perform the scans, said prison medical personnel are reluctant to treat medical problems. Many times they wait until it is too late. In a letter to Lois DeBerry warden Robert Waller, Raybin said, "It is an absolute miracle that this man did not die."

Crouch survived his brush with death, but another Lois DeBerry prisoner was not so lucky. Edward Corley, a paraplegic, was serving three life sentences, two of which, unbelievably, were for a 1986 prison break in which Corley escaped in his wheelchair and hijacked an ambulance.

Sadly, Corley made his escape, but not the way he planned. In 2002, at the age of 49, he died from a heart attack while in emergency surgery as surgeons tried to remove dead flesh from his body, the result of gangrene.

Corley's daughter filed a federal lawsuit over her father's death in July 2003. She believes the gangrene, a contributing factor in her father's heart attack, resulted from a lack of clean colostomy bags, which Tennessee prison health authorities repeatedly failed to provide. CMS, the recipient of a $26.6 million contract with the state to provide prisoner healthcare services, was not named in the lawsuit.

Sources: Chattanooga Times Free Press,

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