A Virginia women’s prison that settled complaints last year regarding substandard health care is continuing to fail inmates, according to a Wednesday filing in federal court that cited the recent deaths of two prisoners and the amputation of another’s leg.
The Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) settled with several female inmates in February 2016, signing an agreement to improve care. But the plaintiffs argue that the prison should be held in contempt for failing to live up to those promises.
Two inmates died at Fluvanna in July — 70-year-old Carolyn Liberto, who was serving time in a murder case, and 38-year-old Deanna Niece, whose online court records show had convictions for forgery and probation violations. The plaintiffs allege that both women’s complaints of serious pain were ignored and that emergency equipment that could have helped them was unavailable.
Liberto suffered from hypertension and had a history of congestive heart failure, according to the court filing. Before she died of cardiopulmonary failure on July 21, the plaintiffs say, her medication repeatedly ran out and she was never referred to a specialist for her extremely high blood pressure.
The day before her death, Liberto complained of chest pain and was told by a medical staffer that her vitals were fine and she should return to her cell, another prisoner wrote in an affidavit.
That night, Liberto began complaining that she could not breathe, and emergency oxygen was not available, according to the plaintiffs; she died overnight.
Niece, who had multiple sclerosis, complained of shortness of breath and chest pain throughout the day July 25 and had trouble walking, according to the court filing. That night, she began to convulse, vomit and cough up blood. There was no suction equipment readily available, and oxygen had to be brought from another building, according to the motion.
“There was something wrong with her all day, and none of the nurses she talked to bothered to follow up with her or send her to medical,” inmate Rachel McCracken wrote in an affidavit. “Then she died on the floor, only a couple of weeks before she would have been free.”
Former inmate Sherry Richburg, 63, who was convicted of heroin distribution, wrote in an affidavit that inconsistent access to antibiotics during her two-year incarceration at Fluvanna caused her severe pain and forced her to have a femur transplant in her leg replaced with cement.
She lost 40 pounds, she wrote, and the cement shattered when she fell trying to go to the bathroom. After her release this year, the plaintiffs say, Richburg’s leg was amputated to her hip.
“I was punished for my crime and did my time,” Richburg said in an affidavit. “But Fluvanna punished me a second time when the medical staff did not take care of me.”
The state attorney general’s office, which declined to comment on the plaintiffs’ filing, wrote in an April court document that the Troy, Va., prison and medical contractor Armor are in compliance with the settlement and working on outstanding issues.
“FCCW and Armor have made tremendous progress in implementing the terms of the settlement agreement and, more important, changing the culture of the provision of medical services to approximate much more a hospital culture,” wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Richard Vorhis.
The Virginia Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a June report, the doctor monitoring compliance with the settlement wrote that care and staffing have improved significantly but that problems remain, in particular with the response by nurses to sick calls and by the prison to medical grievances.
“It’s outrageous that we continue to hear about VDOC’s neglect and mismanagement from the women at FCCW,” Brenda Castañeda of the Legal Aid Justice Center said in a statement.
The group is representing the plaintiffs, along with the firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.