pittsburgh woman died of pneumonia officials withheld medical care

The cost of the medical tests or medical care should never deter a doctor from seeking the solutions needed to keep patients alive and healthy.

Unfortunately, that is what recently happened in Pittsburgh. A woman was sentenced to 30 days in jail because getting pregnant apparently violated the terms of her work release. While she was an inmate in the Allegheny County jail, she complained of illness to officials there. However, rather than investigating what was causing her pain, officials prioritized their budget. They decided it would be too expensive to provide basic medical care.

The medical negligence of those officials proved fatal.

Although the 27-year-old reported that she felt sick, a corrections officer told her to “stick it out,” and she was not admitted to the infirmary until she had symptoms of nausea, vomiting, aches, fever, upset stomach and sleeplessness.

When the woman was finally admitted to the infirmary at the jail, she still did not receive the medical attention she needed. During a hearing to determine whether a civil lawsuit against the jail and the warden could continue, the judge stated that “basic measures were not undertaken as a result of adhering to a policy of withholding or minimizing the availability of medical care in order to control and contain costs.”

Two days after she was admitted to the infirmary, the woman was transported by ambulance to the emergency room. She was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia, a “fatal condition that easily could have been controlled and cured with proper testing, diagnosis and treatment.” The U.S. district judge further found that there had been a “deliberate indifference” to the woman’s illness when she was in jail.

Because of the money-saving priorities of the jail, a young woman and her unborn child were killed. Allegheny County and the warden at the jail attempted to have the case dismissed, claiming that because the woman did receive some care while at the jail — she was given Tylenol and Benadryl following a mistaken diagnosis of influenza — they had completed their duty. The warden also attempted to claim qualified immunity, stating he was not personally involved in the decision-making.

The district court judge found, however, that the woman did not receive adequate care, and that the pain and suffering she endured prior to her admittance to the hospital was caused “consciously, with bad faith and malice.” The judge has allowed the civil lawsuit to proceed.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of this case, one thing should be clear: It is unacceptable for physicians or officials to withhold basic, life-saving medical treatment. That is — or should be — as true for an inmate in a jail infirmary as it is for a patient in a private hospital.

When doctors prioritize saving a buck over saving a patient, something is wrong with our system.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Jail May Be Liable for Pregnant Inmate’s Death,” Erin Mcauley, Dec. 21, 2011

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