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Inmate families complain about medical care

September 02, 1999
By: Hollie Maloney
State Capital Bureau
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JEFFERSON CITY - Roxanne and Racheal Heim received letters from their mother, a Missouri inmate who was a licensed practical nurse, saying medical personnel at the women's prison in Vandalia were giving her the wrong medication for her high blood pressure.

After she died of a cerebral brain hemorrhage on Mother's Day last year, the department tried to deny the daughters' her records.

"I received a piece of paper saying that if I won't hold them liable, they'll send it," Roxanne Heim said.

The Heims and other prisoners' relatives and inmate advocacy groups accused the Department of Corrections of providing insufficient medical care in front of a panel of state lawmakers Tuesday.

"The medical staff does too little too late." said Barbara Ross from the Diocese in Jefferson City. She said one reason for the lack of speedy and quality treatment is that the medical workers view the prisoners as inmates and not humans.

"They are expected to be treated harshly and the department responds to that," she said.

The panel questioned the credibility of the sources (often inmates) of the accusations, repeatedly stating they needed documentation to take any action.

Sister Frances Buschell, who has worked with inmates for over 10 years, said some of the stories might not be true but that, "I can't disbelieve a whole body of people."

Peter DeSimone from the Missouri Association for Social Welfare said sources are scared to come forward with their experiences.

"I think the intimidation (in the department) is subtle," he said.

He called, along with Ross, for an independent investigator to review the cases.

"We can't have the fox guard the hen house," said Ross, stressing that the investigator must be independent to the department.

Regional Medical Director of Correctional Medical Services Gary Campbell said he wasn't surprised by today's meeting. He said the cases were reviewed and everything was handled appropriately.

Correctional Medical Services is the private contractor that handles the health care services for the department.

Department Director Dora Schrino said the medical services the department provides are more than adequate.

The panel told the citizens to call their representatives if incidents occur.

"We aren't the foxes, if there is a hen house, we'll be in it," said Rep. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis.

Since the three hour meeting was dominated by the testimony of the families and advocacy groups, the panel will review the information and have another meeting, allowing the Missouri Department of Corrections more time to speak.