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$70,000 Settlement For Oregon DOC Prisoner Dying from Flu

Oregon citizen Tina Ferri began serving a 70-month sentence for felony assault and methamphetamine possession at the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODC) Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) for women in October of 2017.

In March of the following year, an Oregon appeal court reversed her assault conviction, but by then Ferri had died of flu. She was 53-years-old and had entered the ODC without significant health problems.

Ferri caught the flu shortly after entering the CCCF. That outbreak was particularly virulent. As the infirmary filled to capacity, newly infected patients were quarantined to their assigned cells. Their cellmates were not moved if they were not infected, needlessly exposing others and compounding the contagion problem.

Even more egregious was the ODC’s and CCCF’s near total lack of overall preventative measures to guard against a flu outbreak. For the 2017 flu season, ODC purchased 4,650 vaccines for its 14,550-prisoner population. Only 4,550 prisoners requested a vaccination, which meant that only 31.27 percent of Oregon’s prison population were inoculated against the flu for that year.

The situation was even more dismal at the CCCF, where 519 vaccines were purchased for 1,645 prisoners. Only 300 prisoners requested a vaccination,18.23 percent of the prison’s population, were inoculated against the flu that year.

According to medical experts, the prisoners had no defense against the virus as it spread to one person after another housed in close proximity. Oregon Health Authority’s Dr. Ann Thomas stated that “any influenza vaccination rate lower than 70 percent will still allow the flu to spread in a community—and with a less effective vaccine, like [that] year’s shot, the vaccination rate may still need to be even higher.”

Yet another major problem identified is the ODC’s vaccination policy. To obtain a flu vaccination, a prisoner must ask for it either in writing or by checking off a box on a preprinted infirmary services request.

ODC spokesperson Jennifer Black initially stated that flu vaccinations were discussed in one of the CCCF’s monthly newsletters during 2017. A review of all these newsletters by a Willamette Week reporter found no such mention. When asked about that, Black responded, “I do believe it was an oversight.”

The prison is now considering a policy of actively offering a yearly flu vaccination to all prisoners and allowing them to refuse as their chosen option.

As for Tina Ferri, her bout with the flu became so bad she contracted an internal staph infection. She was finally transferred to a hospital two weeks after she told authorities she was ill and three days after she began coughing up blood. She died on January 15, 2018, shackled to her hospital bed.

Ferri’s family filed a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the ODC in December 2018. Michael Fuller, the attorney representing the family, asked for $7.5 million.

In July 2019, an out of court settlement was reached in the amount of $70,000. See Estate of Tina Ferri v. Oregon Department of Corrections. Circuit Court, Washington County. Case No. 18-cv-55966.

While the current coverage on the Corona virus pandemic somehow implies that prisoners being at risk of dying from the flu is a new or novel risk, this case clearly shows it is neither new nor unforeseen. 

 

Related legal case

Estate of Tina Ferri v. Oregon Department of Corrections