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Courts and Crime

Maine State Prison Inmate Files Suit, Says Hundreds Of Inmates Were Denied Hepatitis C Treatment

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Maine Public File
A Maine State Prison inmate has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Wellpath LLC, a private contractor that provides medical care to prisoners.

A Maine State Prison inmate has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Wellpath LLC, a private contractor that provides medical care to prisoners.

In his complaint, Mathiew Loisel alleges that the state has failed to adequately treat more than 500 inmates in Maine prisons who have been diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C virus, or HCV.

HCV is a highly communicable and progressive disease that, if left untreated, scars the liver and can lead to cancer, pain and death. There are direct-acting, antiviral medications, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, that can cure most patients in a few weeks, but the drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars for a three-month treatment. As of 2017, the Maine Department of Corrections indicated in an email that only three prisoners out of more than 580 diagnosed with HCV had received an antiviral regimen.

"The reason why we've alleged this as a class action is because we think Mathiew is representative of a whole class of similarly situated individuals, that this is really a grave public health issue,” says Miriam Johnson, an attorney for Loisel.

"Mathiew was diagnosed was Hepatitis C in March of 2014 and, since that time, it has turned into chronic Hepatitis C virus,” she says. “His manifestations have included things such as fatigue, severe abdominal pain, and he has been monitored by the Department of Corrections."

That monitoring includes checking his blood levels every six months. But Johnson says the DOC's policy is not to provide antivirals unless a prisoner has experienced a severe level of liver damage. She says the state does, however, cover HCV medications for recipients of MaineCare who are not incarcerated.

The complaint alleges that the denial of medicine for prisoners diagnosed with chronic HCV violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. It asks for a change in the policy and appropriate medical care for prisoners with HCV.

The deputy commissioner of the Maine DOC said he could not comment on pending litigation.