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Hawaii Prisoner Awarded $7.2 Million after Losing His Fingers and Feet

In October 2011, 30-year-old Aaron David Persin was accosted by police officers for having an open container of alcohol. When they determined that he had warrants for missing traffic court they arrested Persin, who was homeless. Unable to post bail, he was held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).

By the end of the month, after several colossal failures by the facility’s medical staff, Persin was released – via a local hospital – after having lost all of his fingers and both of his feet. The charges against him were dismissed. Four years later the state of Hawaii, in conjunction with its insurer, reached a $7.2 million settlement with Persin, who now needs prosthetic legs to walk.

This tragic story is all too familiar to those who have encountered chronically underfunded, understaffed and often incompetent prison medical care.

When Persin arrived at OCCC he had a scratch on his forearm that he received while resisting arrest. Four days later he was suffering from a 103-degree fever, headaches, a rapid heart rate and stomach pain. Nurses at the prison gave him “the correctional cure-all” – two Tylenol and some water.

He returned later that day complaining of dizziness and blurry vision. The nurses again treated him with Tylenol and notified the on-call physician, Dr. Sisar Paderes.

Paderes ordered a blood draw, then diagnosed an infection in Persin’s arm and in his throat when he examined him the next day. He ordered a common broad-spectrum antibiotic and sent Persin back to his unit.

Twelve hours later Persin returned to the OCCC infirmary, unable to stand for count. When the blood test results came back they indicated an emergency: kidney failure and sepsis from an infection. Staff at the prison waited 90 minutes for a vehicle to become available to transport Persin to a hospital, which was 3.5 miles away; they did not call for an ambulance.

Suffering from septic shock, Persin was immediately put on life support and medicated. As a direct result of the nearly-fatal medical condition, his fingers and feet had to be amputated due to gangrene.

Richard Turbin, the attorney who litigated Persin’s claim against the state, laid the blame for his client’s permanent disfigurement on negligence by prison employees, noting that timely treatment and transportation to the hospital could have prevented the amputations.

“The worst thing is that the nurse suspected the septicemia [blood infection] long before he was sent to the ER,” Turbin said. “If there’s any suspicion that a guy has a sepsis, he’s got to go right to the hospital, and you need to get a team on him right away. If they had done that, the odds were he would have been fine. He would have recovered.”

State officials were predictably less concerned about what happened to Persin than with the cost of the $7.2 million settlement, which was reached in October 2015. State Senator Will Espero, vice chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said he was “appalled that we had to pay millions due to our own neglect.”

“When you look at the dollar amount in excess of seven figures, one wonders what is going on with this division and people who are working there,” Espero added. “I want to get down to the bottom of this. Someone certainly needs to be held accountable and maybe even terminated because of this situation.”

Perhaps Senator Espero should really start at the bottom – where Mr. Persin’s feet used to be – and investigate whether the staff members at OCCC are competent and qualified to address prisoners’ serious medical needs. There is also a shortage of prison medical staff; as of February 2016, for example, almost 28% of health care nursing positions were vacant.

“It’s simple,” Turbin said. “We just need more doctors and nurses. Unless they fill those positions, another inmate is going to be victimized again. It’s just a question of when.”

Persin’s lawsuit remains pending against Altres Staffing, a company that provided contract medical workers at OCCC, and Altres has appealed the settlement with the state and its insurer. See: Persin v. State of Hawaii, First Circuit Court (HI), Case No. 1CC131001571.


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Related legal case

Persin v. State of Hawaii