Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Nearly Killed by Dehumanizing Culture of Indifference, Oregon Prisoner Sues for $975,000

After undergoing life-saving surgery that left him forced to use a colostomy bag for life, he filed suit on September 1, 2020, for $975,000 against the state Department of Corrections (DOC), its private contract healthcare provider, Correctional Health Partners (CHP), Drs. Reed Paulson and Karen Harris, as well as Nurse Practitioner (NP) Elizabeth Mills.

Spieler was convicted of attempted assault on two policemen after they arrived at his apartment complex in 2017 to arrest him on a felony warrant, and Spieler nearly struck both officers with his vehicle as he fled.

In June 2018, shortly after arriving at the state penitentiary, he began experiencing stomach pain, cramping, diarrhea and bloody stools. He weighed 178 pounds when NP Mills recommended a colonoscopy on July 5, 2018. CHP approved the procedure seven days later, but by July 20, 2018, it had not been conducted.

That was the date Dr. Paulson then ordered an abdominal CT scan, prompted by Spieler’s sudden weight loss: 13 pounds in just 13 days. The scan revealed a suspected case of “colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or other large bowel infiltrative process,” and again a colonoscopy was recommended.

On July 30, Spieler was finally sent to Salem Hospital for a colonoscopy that revealed “chronic ulcerative colitis.” A stool sample also tested positive for staph infection. But on August 2, when Spieler was discharged back to prison, the infection remained untreated.

By August 6, he weighed just 140 pounds, and his blood pressure had dropped dangerously low. Two days later, medical staff ordered fluids but then simply gave up after a half-dozen unsuccessful attempts to start an IV because of “poor venous access.”

So, on August 9, Spieler was returned to the prison’s general population without receiving any IV fluids. His blood pressure was just 85/60.

By August 29, he was forced to wear diapers because he was having 20-25 bowel movements a day. He weighed just 126 pounds by September 1, 2018, a two-month loss of 52 pounds.

Three days later, “a sergeant returned Mr. Spieler to the infirmary and yelled at a nurse to do something about him,” wrote attorney Lynn Walsh in the court filing. “The nurse was annoyed that a sergeant was yelling at her, and at first was rude to Mr. Spieler.”

The nurse’s abuse was more than Spieler could take. He broke down and started crying, certain that he was about to die and that nobody who could help him cared.

Then the nurse took Spieler’s vital signs and realized that he was gravely ill. But she said she couldn’t send him to a hospital unless he claimed he was “suffering chest pain,” a lie she noted in Spieler’s medical file before he left for the hospital by ambulance.

“This nurse probably saved Mr. Spieler’s life,” Walsh noted.

Yet after his hospital discharge on September 15, Spieler’s health continued to deteriorate. He was rushed back the next day when his blood pressure plummeted to 72/42, his heart rate soared to 125 beats per minute, and his blood oxygen level fell to 90 percent.

Hospital lab results revealed that Spieler was still suffering from the untreated staph infection first discovered six weeks earlier, as well as a perforated bowel. Following surgery for that, he suffered acute respiratory failure and remained intubated in an intensive care unit for several days.

Spieler then underwent a second surgery for feeding tube placement and an ileostomy — which left him dependent on a colostomy bag — on September 19.

When he was finally discharged on October 5, hospital staff recommended sending him to an inpatient rehabilitation facility because he was not “really safe for the infirmary at the correctional facility.”

But that’s where he went. Spieler weighed just 116.6 pounds on October 6, a loss of 62 pounds in three months. He did not receive any occupational or physical therapy upon returning to prison. He remained in the prison infirmary until being discharged back into the prison’s general population on November 5.

“Even though Mr. Spieler’s health was declining to a dangerous place, Dr. Paulson and NP Mills kept returning Mr. Spieler to general population from the infirmary,” wrote Walsh, adding they didn’t take his complaints seriously despite his suffering “diarrhea the consistency and color of V8 for at least 2 months,” in addition to his rapid weight loss, poor vital signs, declining lab results and (his) “appearing acutely malnourished and ill.”

Prison officials declined to comment on Spieler’s allegations, citing his pending lawsuit. But DOC spokeswoman Betty Bernt insisted that health-care services available to prisoners “must be comparable to the range and breadth of health care provided in the community.”

See: Spieler v. Paulson, Case No. 6:20-cv-01055, U.S.D.C. (D. Or. 2020). 


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Spieler v. Paulson