KHI News Service

Patient’s perspective: Inmate has no complaints about care

By Phil Cauthon | December 12, 2011

Three years ago, when Lansing inmate Tavis Moten was 39, he began showing symptoms of kidney failure.

"I started swelling up, water started coming out of my pores, I was real puffy," he said.

"They gave me water pills, and I guess it helped a bit. But I was ready to start (dialysis), because it's an awful feeling," said Moten, who was convicted in 2003 for aggravated assault and battery and will be in prison at least until 2015.

"I try not to drink, because if you do, you can't breathe. Once you lay down, it's in your lungs. And you can't sleep. You got to sleep like a giraffe, standing up. It's an awful feeling. I wouldn't wish it on my enemy."

But he said the clinic staff at El Dorado told him that in order to start dialysis, he would have to fall below 10 percent kidney function.

Moten said he was not put on dialysis until he had an emergency. Several months after symptoms began, his condition became critical.

"All of a sudden, I just had to be rushed to the hospital. They had to do emergency dialysis. I just passed out. They had to bring me back. You know, scary thing," he said.

After four days in the hospital, his condition stabilized and he was transferred to Lansing. Since 2008, he's received dialysis three times a week, most recently under the care of Barb Sneegas, a nurse subcontracted by Correct Care Solutions.

Moten said he has no complaints about the care he's received in Lansing from Sneegas and others.

"She cares about us. That's what keeps me going," Moten said. "Some people, it's just a paycheck. But she actually cares. Miss Ellen, she cares, too. I think the world of her," he said, referring to Ellen Bartz, health services administrator at Lansing for Correct Care Solutions.

Chief among the complaints by Moten and others with comparable health conditions is the prison food. The clinic employees prescribe certain foods to reduce the strain on patients between dialysis treatments. But, in practice, getting the special food — such as dishes that substitute chicken or more vegetables for sauce or cheese — can be challenging.

"Sometimes you have to go through hell to get your meals. Sometimes they don't want to give it to you," Moten said. Clinic staff "give us a menu saying what we supposed to have, but (prison food service) don't follow the menu. Or another inmate done stole your tray, because you know, they don't give out chicken here unless you buy it."

Advocates for prisoners in Kansas have been in short supply for some 15 years, since the administration of then-Gov. Joan Finney. Grants for inmate advocacy ended along with her term in 1995, and there have been scant public voices for incarcerated Kansans since.

Russell Thompson has been a prison volunteer for about 16 years. He said over that time, the groups he's worked with have included inmates with health issues — such as vision, back and dental problems.

"Some were serious enough to require specialized care. I know that care was given but am not qualified to comment on the quality of the care, and I have not noticed any trends in the health services," Thompson wrote in an email.

"None of the ex-offenders I have known have complained to me about the health care they received while incarcerated," he wrote.

Fielding complaints

The oversight office at the corrections department gets about 30 complaints per month of inadequate health care from inmates.

That’s down from a high of more than 200 complaints per month in 2002 when vendor Prison Health Services was losing money on its contract, said Viola Riggin, who heads the office.

Each year, about two or three complaints become lawsuits, she said. Of those, all have either been dismissed or settled out of court. For the most part, officials at Correct Care Solutions would not comment on lawsuits against the company.

Spokesman Patrick Cummiskey wrote in an email: “Since our inception in 2003, CCS has never had a case result in a verdict for an inmate.”

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