August 1, 2005
The New York Times on Monday examined the experience of a doctor hired to fix problems within the HIV unit at the Limestone Correctional Facility in Alabama. Prison Health Services, which began providing health care for the Limestone inmates as a result of the 2004 settlement of a 2002 federal lawsuit filed by 240 HIV-positive prisoners at the facility, hired Dr. Valda Chijide to serve as "statewide coordinator of inmate HIV care" (von Zielbauer, New York Times, 8/1). Under the settlement, the Alabama Department of Corrections is required to provide various improvements in living conditions and medical care for the state's HIV-positive inmates, who are housed at a 300-person HIV unit at Limestone. The department is required to allow a medical consultant to monitor the conditions of the HIV unit on a quarterly basis for two years and must hire a full-time nurse to coordinate infection control and inmate medical care (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/19). Chijide described the HIV unit as "riddled with rats, where broken windows had been replaced with plastic sheeting that was itself falling apart," the Times reports. She said nurses prescribed drugs and diagnosed inmates without her consent and her own prescriptions often were ignored. Chijide said lab tests were lost or ignored, and inmates often were assigned to the HIV unit before she was notified and "simply showed up unannounced," according to the Times. She also said none of the inmates in the unit was tested for tuberculosis or treated for hepatitis C. In addition, the HIV unit had no clerical support. "Nobody was really making an effort to run an HIV clinic the way it was supposed to," Chijide said, adding, "They would tell you one thing, but when it came down to it, they didn't provide any resources."
Then There Was One
The prison's medical director resigned soon after Chijide started, and Chijide became the only doctor not only for the 230 men in the HIV unit but also for the other 1,800 inmates who made up the rest of the prison population. "Each day became a race to treat inmates in the infirmary, answer sick calls and hunt down missing medical records," the Times reports. After one month, Chijide filed formal complaints in writing, and Prison Health suspended her the next month for undisclosed reasons. She resigned after being in the position for only three months. Chijide's experience offers "an intimate glimpse" of Prison Health's work "at a moment when the need for change could not have been more pressing and the spotlight on Prison Health could hardly have been more intense," according to the Times (New York Times, 8/1).
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