Last month, Charles Young told a prison guard he needed medical attention not long after he first saw bright blood in his urine.
It was a day before a nurse treated him, took a urine sample and concluded that he had a urinary tract infection. Young said she gave him two shots for the pain and antibiotics and sent him back to his cell at the South Mississippi Correctional Institute in Leakesville with some antibiotic pills, which tend to clear up symptoms within a few days.
But as the week went by, he felt pain in his abdomen and lower back and could barely eat or drink. Six days later, he was taken to the nearby Greene County Hospital, where Young said a doctor in the emergency department told him he needed to be seen by a specialist and that his condition was serious.
It’s been more than three weeks since that hospital visit. The first time he saw a doctor at the prison was Oct. 3 – after Mississippi Today and an advocacy group began reaching out to the prison and Mississippi Department of Corrections asking questions about his lack of care. He said he underwent a procedure where a catheter was inserted, but he has not been given the results or any updates since.
Officials told him after the hospital visit an appointment with a urologist has been made, but Young said the doctor he saw last week told him it was unlikely he would see the specialist because of “transportation issues.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Young said by phone last week.
While the blood in his urine has subsided, he still has terrible stomach pain, little to no appetite and irregular bowel movements, he said.
Federal health privacy laws prevent the Department of Corrections from commenting directly on Young’s medical case. But more broadly, VitalCore Health Strategies, the state’s contracted medical provider since 2020, provides care to more than 19,000 people in the prison system.
“VitalCore provides primary care services on site,” Mississippi Medical Director Dr. Raman Singh said in a statement. “When a patient needs a higher level of care, VitalCore medical staff take those patients to the specialty clinics and hospitals in the area.”
“With these arrangements, we ensure that our patients have the same level of access to specialist care as other Mississippians.”
An ongoing lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Mississippi in 2021 suggests otherwise. The advocacy group filed the federal lawsuit against VitalCore, the department and Commissioner Burl Cain on behalf of 31 incarcerated men and women across the state’s prisons, including South Mississippi Correctional.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants don’t provide treatment, medication and medical equipment for those in custody. Incarcerated people experienced worsened health conditions or death from ignored or refused calls for treatment and delayed outside appointments and follow up exams, the complaint says.
The lawsuit highlighted dozens of situations, including a delayed diagnosis that led to the death of a woman at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. Similar to Young, she made several sick calls about her symptoms, including blood in her urine, and complained of shortness of breath and passed out the week she died, according to the lawsuit.
A MDOC spokesperson declined to comment because the lawsuit is ongoing. In court records, the department and VitalCore denied most of the allegations.
Disability Rights Mississippi has gotten involved on behalf of Young, though Communications Director Jane Walton said she can’t comment on his situation specifically.
Walton said because of the nonprofit’s status as a protection advocacy agency, it has unique access to places many people don’t, including prisons. When the group began looking into how disabled people were being treated in Mississippi prisons, it found “egregious” violations and instances where incarcerated people – both with and without disabilities – went without basic medical, mental health and hygiene care.
The lawsuit is in the “class certification” stage, where attorneys must demonstrate certain facts to obtain class action status. These include demonstrating that the plaintiffs have been harmed in similar ways and the class is appropriately defined.
This phase of the lawsuit will likely continue into 2024, Walton said.
Sick calls were often ignored due to lack of staff, the lawsuit alleges. The first time Young needed to see a medical professional about his condition, he was told to come back the next day because there was not one available.
Three doctors, three nurse practitioners, 18 registered nurses and 12 licensed nurse practitioners who exclusively cover South Mississippi Correctional, according to VitalCore and MDOC.
In the two years since the lawsuit has been active, two of the plaintiffs have died, according to court records.
Although Young is no longer seeing blood in his urine, he knows he isn’t entirely better. The pain, weakness and shaking he is still feeling can be connected to an infection in the kidney and bladder.
The 30-year-old said he’s never had a health condition like the one he’s experiencing. He said cancer doesn’t run in his family, but there is no way to rule out the disease until he gets further treatment. Continued blood in the urine and pain can be symptoms of kidney or bladder cancer.
Young said the visit to the outside hospital felt like a ray of hope.
“It felt great to actually know there was a deeper issue wrong with me, and they were trying to get me to proper medical care,” he said.
Greg Havard, CEO of the George Regional Health System, could not comment on Young’s medical case, but said the hospital doesn’t see many patients from the Leakesville prison.
Greene County Regional is able to treat urinary tract infections and bladder conditions, including by using a CT scan and running lab work to make a diagnosis, he said. For more specialized treatment, the hospital refers patients – incarcerated or not – to specialists.
Singh, of VitalCore, said when a patient needs a higher level of care, medical staff take them to specialty clinics and hospitals in the area. For those at South Mississippi Correctional, they would be taken to medical facilities in the Hattiesburg area, which is about 50 miles from the prison. It’s unclear why Young was taken to the small Leakesville hospital.
For more complex conditions, VitalCore sends people to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Not long after Young started having symptoms, his family began calling the prison to talk with wardens, nurses and other medical staff. Kathy Williams, Young’s aunt, even traveled from Washington to Mississippi to try and help her nephew get medical care.
Officials wouldn’t answer or share information about Young’s condition and treatment with her or other family members due to medical privacy laws, she said. Young said he didn’t know how to provide permission to allow the prison to disclose his health information.
Young has been at South Mississippi Correctional since 2019. He was sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter and aggravated assault and a five-year enhanced penalty of cocaine possession.
Though prison records list a 2033 tentative release date, Young said he has earned time off his sentence to be released in three years. He said he did that by enrolling in educational and skills programs as well as having jobs in the prison.
In his free time, he reads the Bible, prays and preaches, but with his recent health condition, he hasn’t been able to do that as much.
Young’s recent medical and safety concerns have renewed his family’s efforts to get him transferred to a regional facility closer to home. South Mississippi Correctional is hundreds of miles away from Greenville, where Young is from.
Williams said her nephew was told he needed to get medical treatment before being moved because the regional facility likely wouldn’t pay for it. So she, other family members and Young’s
girlfriend are begging for him to be seen by a specialist outside of the prison.
“I just never would have thought the prison system was like this,” said Williams, who is a health care worker.
Read original article by clicking here.