Prison medical care upgraded

By Ashley Powers
 
LAS VEGAS _ A Nevada prison's medical care _ once described as displaying a "shocking and callous disregard for human life" _ would be upgraded and monitored under a proposed court settlement filed Thursday.
        An independent monitor would ensure that the remote maximum-security prison, which houses Nevada's death row inmates, was dispensing medication and treatment in a timely manner, creating treatment plans for chronically ill inmates and had qualified medical staff available at all times, according to the proposal.
        The monitor would inspect the 1,100-inmate Ely State Prison at least four times over two years. Should medical care fall short, the duration of his oversight could be extended, according the proposal.
        The agreement, which still requires the approval of federal Judge Larry R. Hicks, was crafted by the ACLU, which represented Ely inmates, and state officials.
        The ACLU cited a 2007 report by an Idaho doctor who, after reviewing the medical records of 35 inmates, said the Ely prison's health care system amounted to "the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering that I have ever encountered."
        At the time, the men's prison had no staff doctor; the previous one had been a gynecologist. A nurse was fired after complaining about shoddy treatment, which she said led to one inmate dying of gangrene.
        Under the proposed agreement, cash-strapped Nevada would also pay $325,000 in attorney fees and any costs of improving the prison's health care.
        Lee Rowland of the ACLU said the plan resulted from "extensive cooperation" with the state. Partly based on National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards, it could help patch what she described as a "very broken system." State officials declined to comment.
        Two years ago, ACLU attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit alleging "a pervasive pattern of grossly inadequate medical care" putting all Ely prisoners at risk.
        For example, when inmate Charles Randolph asked for a specific heart medication, the prison physician's assistant said it was potentially lethal, but he'd be happy to prescribe it "so that your chances of expiring sooner are increased."