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Lawsuit Charges Missouri Prison System Denies Inmates Hepatitis C Treatment

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The Missouri Department of Corrections and its health care provider have systematically denied medical treatment for prisoners with Hepatitis C, a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Jefferson City, seeks relief on behalf of thousands of inmates. It says the defendants have withheld drug treatment from the inmates in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth and Fourteenth amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Prison officials are torturing hundreds of inmates – sometimes to death – by withholding a cure to an often fatal disease,” ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said in a statement.

“This failure to respect human life and dignity not only violates the Constitution, but also sharply increases the cost of treatment the state must pay when their condition worsens, as well as for the other inmates who will contract Hepatitis C because officials have chosen to needlessly expose them to an untreated, highly infectious disease.”

The three named plaintiffs in the suit, inmates in different Missouri prisons, are represented by the ACLU of Missouri and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis.

The lawsuit alleges that at least 10 to 15 percent of the inmate population is infected with the Hepatitis C virus, compared with approximately 1 percent of the general population. The exact number of infected inmates, it says, is unknown because of a lack of routine testing.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from mild illness to a lifelong one that attacks the liver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A similar lawsuit was filed recently on behalf of inmates in the Tennessee prison system. An investigation by The Tennessean newspaper found 3,487 inmates in the system with Hepatitis C but only eight receiving treatment.

The Missouri lawsuit was filed the same day the Missouri Department of Correction’s prison’s director, George Lombardi, sent a resignation letter to prison employees. Lombardi has headed the prison system for eight years.

Lombardi’s letter came after The Pitch magazine’s Karen Dillon reported that Missouri has paid more than $7.5 million to prison employees from 2012 through 2016 to settle allegations of harassment on the job.

Besides the Missouri Department of Corrections, the Hepatitis C lawsuit also names Corizon, LLC, a Tennessee-based company that provides medical treatment for prisoners under contract; Lombardi; and 21 other individual defendants, including doctors and others involved in providing medical care to inmates.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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