We’ve heard several stories from folks inside about the horrific healthcare they’ve received, even before the pandemic.
Healthcare in the Massachusetts DOC is at an absolute crisis, and incarcerated organizers want to make sure their voices are heard.
Prisons and jails across the US are failing our communities. Countless incarcerated people in the US are receiving negligent medical care from a for-profit company called Wellpath. This corrupt and deeply negligent medical provider – which is owned by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital – was sued at least 1,395 times in federal court between 2008 to 2018. Locally, horror stories about Wellpath’s negligence are being revealed across the country, from California to North Carolina. Recent reports have exposed Wellpath’s egregious health care services in immigration detention centers, as well as the company’s failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks in incarcerated populations.
Despite Wellpath’s record, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) has contracted with Wellpath to provide medical care for all people incarcerated in state prisons. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, Wellpath has subjected incarcerated people – who are unable to receive care elsewhere – to undue suffering and negative health outcomes.
I know this because I’m incarcerated in a state prison in Massachusetts, and I am going blind.
I suffer from severe glaucoma, an eye disease that causes loss of vision. When treated appropriately, vision loss due to glaucoma can be slowed or stopped. Without proper treatment, this illness can cause complete blindness that is irreversible. Because Massachusetts has hired Wellpath, I fear I am on this path.
In July of 2020, an ophthalmologist at Boston Medical Center, growing alarmed by the progression of my glaucoma, scheduled me for immediate corrective eye surgery to prevent further loss of vision. When September arrived, and I still had not heard from Wellpath about the surgery, I began writing letters to Wellpath, asking about the surgery. For months, I received no response. Finally, in November, I began receiving notices stating that the surgery had been scheduled. Yet, when I saw a Wellpath nurse in December, she looked at my record and told me, “I do not see any mention of surgery of any kind.” She promised me that she would look into the matter and get back to me. Several more months passed and I heard nothing. Frustrated and concerned, I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Corrections asking her to intervene on my behalf and assist me in getting my surgery. I received no response to my letter.
I then asked a friend in the community to contact the Commissioner’s office. My friend’s call prompted a response and Wellpath finally scheduled my surgery. On June 8th, 2021 – nearly one year after my ophthalmologist called for immediate surgery – I underwent micropulse laser surgery for my glaucoma.
Many incarcerated people don’t have a friend or family member to advocate on their behalf. I’m not sure my surgery would have ever been scheduled if not for my friend’s call.
But even after my surgery, I still struggled to get the recovery care I needed. I was refused shades for my windows, even though dark lighting is necessary for recovery. Now, I am waiting on Wellpath to schedule this surgery for my other eye. When I was last brought to an appointment with my ophthalmologist at BMC, she expressed concern at the way Wellpath has continuously pushed back the dates of my appointments.
Due to Wellpath’s negligence, my eyesight has continued to deteriorate in ways that could be prevented by basic treatments. I now take eight prescription medications to control my glaucoma. When I run out of these prescriptions, refilling them is never a certainty. I always let the Wellpath nursing staff know that I need a refill one week prior to running out of these prescriptions. Still, Wellpath rarely refills them on time. Due to this negligence, I often go two to five days without them, despite my best efforts to follow my doctor’s orders. Without consistent access to these medications, I may quickly lose what is left of my vision.
Sadly, my experience is not unique. There are many cases even more egregious than mine.
This raises many questions. Why has Massachusetts given Wellpath its stamp of approval? Why have they handed responsibility for the health care of thousands of individuals over to a medical provider that is well known for providing negligent care?
If a just and moral society is to be measured by anything, should we not first look to see how that society cares for those who lack the opportunity to care for themselves – those who are sick, elderly, incarcerated or homeless? Should we allow institutions and structures to exist that do not care for these populations, all the while profiting off of them?
Any moral society would call for the immediate removal and abolishment of institutions that did not treat these vulnerable citizens with adequate care and concern. The Massachusetts DOC has an obligation to drop their contract with Wellpath and ensure that incarcerated people in this state receive the medical care they need.