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New Mexico Prison Osteomyelitis Epidemic Spells Medical Negligence

Many people look at a topic such the medical care of prison inmates with measured indifference or outright disdain. The underlying subtext reads, “they deserve what they get”. This broad social indifference to the health of inmates offers a bad guide for policy with dire repercussions in a broader social context.

An article in the Oxford University Press on clinical infectious diseases, published in 2007, noted that one in thirty-three adults in the United States was either in prison, jail, or on probation or parole—a total of 7 million people. Regarding infections in prisons, the article states,

“Compared with the general public, newly incarcerated inmates have an increased prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus infection, hepatitis B virus infection, hepatitis C virus infection, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. While incarcerated, inmates are at an increased risk for the acquisition of blood-borne pathogens, sexually transmitted diseases, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, and infection with airborne organisms, such as M. tuberculosis, influenza virus, and varicella-zoster virus.”

Prison inmates are not only exposed to one another, they are also exposed to prison staff and guards and, who upon exiting the correctional settings in which they work return each day to their communities and families and if their medical conditions are not dealt with they go on to propagate them in the general population. Thus, the recognition and treatment of infectious disease among prisoners is something that should concern us all. In 2010, an article in The Atlantic notes, “of more than 10 million incarcerated people in the U.S. alone, 4 percent have HIV, 15 percent have hepatitis C, and 3 percent have active tuberculosis.”

Infectious Disease in New Mexico’s Jails and Prisons

As bad as the statistics above are, the picture in the State of New Mexico is far worse. According to an article published in the Albuquerque Journal in December 2015 approximately half of the inmates in the State’s prison system have Hepatitis C. Similarly high rates of Hepatitis B have also persisted among New Mexico jail and prison inmates. New Mexico in Depth published an article entitled, “An Ignored Epidemic in New Mexico’s Prisons” which further highlighted the problem-and the indifference:

“…although the state’s inmates have the highest prevalence of hepatitis C of any group in New Mexico — more than four in 10 are infected — the prisons are hardly treating any of them: Out of some 3,000 prisoners diagnosed with the disease, just 46 received treatment for hepatitis C during the 2018 fiscal year. They are locked in for their crimes, but the life-saving medications they need have been largely locked out.”

The article goes on to note, “Whether or not the prisons are prepared for change, it may be forced upon them” in reference to the mounting lawsuits filed against the New Mexico Corrections Department and its private medical contractors entrusted with the healthcare of those in New Mexico’s penal system and by extension the State of New Mexico.

Other types of infectious disease also tend to have a much higher incidence in prisons and jails as noted above. But of particular interest here is Staphylococcus A and B infections such as Osteomyelitis and related spinal sepsis which are the product of the gross neglect of prison infections.

Staphylococcus A and B infections: Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is an infection in the bone. While it is considered rare, it nevertheless is occurring at incredibly high rates in the State of New Mexico’s prison system. Such infections get into the bone when they occur in neighboring tissues or spread through the bloodstream. Osteomyelitis is more likely to occur in settings where people are packed together such as jails and prisons. People who have other health conditions are also at higher risk again pointing toward inmates in correctional facilities given the statistics above. However, osteomyelitis is readily controlled even in vulnerable populations. It is a lack of appropriate medical care and lack of adherence to accepted standards of infection control in New Mexico prisons that has led to the current epidemic.

Epidemic? Do the Math

Rates of incidence for osteomyelitis vary, depending on the source. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgeons of America published an authoritative article in 2010 which looked at occurrence of osteomyelitis in a population-based study from 1969-2009 placed the number at 21.8 per 100,000 people.

Given that there are a total of about 7000 New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) inmates, simple math illustrates the epidemic of osteomyelitis in the New Mexico prisons. Collins & Collins, P.C. alone has filed or will in the near future have 10 or more lawsuits involving prison osteomyelitis and/or spinal sepsis. If the math is not already apparent, that is about five times the national average.

Prison Osteomyelitis Epidemic is the Result of Medical and NMCD Institutional Negligence

At Collins & Collins, P.C. over the course of the past two years, we have had many calls and have taken on numerous cases involving inmates who have contracted osteomyelitis and/or spinal sepsis while incarcerated in one or more of New Mexico’s correctional facilities.

Osteomyelitis is not difficult to diagnose. It is not expensive to diagnose. It is predictable in a prison environment. If it is properly diagnosed, it can be easily and inexpensively treated. It is very dangerous if it is not . It can lead to lengthy hospitalizations and death if not diagnosed and treated properly. Unfortunately it is not being properly diagnosed and treated in New Mexico Prisons leading to grave harm to inmates and their families.

This is ongoing. It is allowed to continue as a result of what seems to be utter indifference on the part of the State of New Mexico and NMCD to the health and safety of the state’s inmates. It seems the only way to get anybody’s attention on these matters is through the courts and this is precisely what Collins & Collins, P.C. intends to do.

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