WASHINGTON DOC SETTLES LAWSUIT WITH PRISONER AFTER UNLAWFULLY DENYING HIM ACCESS TO HIS MEDICAL RECORDS.
By: Brian Matthews, #796769 (BM67)
Song Pick: “Africa” by Toto.
“Washington’s prisons are notorious for their unethical, immoral lack of treatment of their prisoners’ health, and court records show that the previous DOC chief medical officer (Steven Hammond) has been sued a reported 166 times–in the federal courts alone–since 2007 for his draconian actions/inactions as it pertains to the health of Washington prisoners under his care. But to add to this alarming number of times that litigation has ensued, for years DOC has also been non-compliant with federal laws which require prisoners to have unlimited access to their own medical information.
In December of 2016 I made a written request to review my medical file at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) in Aberdeen, Washington. The SCCC medical unit eventually scheduled an appointment, and brought me to the physical therapy room for a file review. I mean, there’s nothing more awesome than to flip through thousands of pages of private health care documents on a sweaty, stinky massage bed, right? When we got to the room, I was told that my review would be limited to 30 minutes, and a timer was started. Yes, they actually have a timer. I immediately encountered a slew of medical codes and abbreviations in my file, so I asked the file supervisor what the various codes meant. I was given the proverbial “I don’t know” answer for every request I made about the varying codes and abbreviations.
Some of my medical file information (x-rays) is contained on CDs, and I seen a computer sitting in the physical therapy room, so I requested to view the contents of the CDs on the computer and was told no. No reason, just “We don’t allow offenders to view CDs during file reviews.” I tried to review the approximately 3,000 pages of my file, but in the 30 minutes that I was allotted, I barely made a dent.
On researching the issue, I discovered that the Federal HIPAA law (42 U.S.C. 1320d) and the State UHCIA law (RCW 70.02) requires that all persons–including prisoners–have unlimited access to their medical file (including electronic files) that DOC must explain the meaning of medical codes and abbreviations during file reviews if requested and that if information is going to be withheld it can only be for certain reasons and that those reasons must be clearly stated. Willfully neglecting to comply with HIPAA is punishable by up to $1.5 million per year (42 U.S.C, Sec. 1320d-5(a)(3)(D)), and the feds are REQUIRED to impose a penalty thereon. 42 U.S.C, Sec. 1320d-5(c)(1), (2). When we wrote kites to the SCCC Health Records Information Technicians (RHIT) and told them that we are supposed to have unlimited access to our medical files, staff responded and told us that DOC policy states that we are given a 30-minute window every 30 days as a courtesy to review our medical files, and that Policy states that they don’t have to let us access our medical files kept electronically. Do you get what I just said? When we informed these people that Federal-statute mandates required them to allow us to access the entirety of our medical files without restriction, their response was that their POLICY superseded mandatory Federal law? WTF? For those who may not have a clue, Policy statements are ADVISORY and do not bind or have any force at all. RCW 34.05.230(1). Yet DOC’s personnel relies on its policy whenever they need to justify their arbitrary and capricious agency action against Washington’s prisoners. From our perspective, it seems to go something like this:
PRISONER: “Hey officer, you’re not allowed to spit in my face and piss on my religious books, that’s against the law.”
OFFICER: “Well, pursuant to DOC Policy, I’m allowed to utilize my discretion in any engagement with an offender, and in my discretion I needed to degrade you to handle the situation because I felt threatened by your nose hair.”
State law allows a private right of action over DOC’s restricting access to my medical files, so I filed suit challenging DOC’s violations of mandatory State and Federal laws. After my suit was filed and served, DOC knew they were in hot shit in this matter and immediately settled the case with me by agreement.
DOC’s medical units are horrible, and if they’ll act like they did (and had repeatedly done, and still do) here just to keep their prisoners ignorant and from accessing their own medical records, can you imagine what they’ll do to deprive a prisoner from adequate medical care? I have personally been deprived of meaningful, adequate health care from DOC for over six years and currently have a lawsuit about it, with another one pending. I hereby specifically opine and name PA-C Scott Light, Dr. Sara Smith, and Dr. Steven Hammond as incompetent morons whom intentionally allow prisoners under their care to suffer at length. Worse, I’ve personally been witness to an alarming number of prisoners’ deaths resultant from DOC’s refusal to provide adequate health care in their facilities. DOC’s medical personnel need to come to the realization that their violations of mandatory laws will result in litigation, and that crimes committed against convicted felons are still illegal. I don’t know what type of government DOC is (Nincompooptocracy?), but it surely can’t be Government OF the People, BY the People, FOR the People. This settled lawsuit does not just show how these public servants cheat and abuse their benefactors it also evinces the illegality of DOC’s actions against your friends, families, and loved ones whom are imprisoned. Be concerned for your imprisoned peoples’ health care, because if it comes to relying on DOC to keep them in health, it won’t happen. My lawsuit can be found at Thurston County Superior Court Cause No. 17-2-00039-34.”