Federal court and monitor to oversee overhaul of unconstitutional health care in Illinois prisons
CHICAGO – Just days before the opening of trial in Lippert v. Baldwin – a case challenging the inadequate and dismal quality of health care provided in Illinois prisons – the parties reached an agreement to resolve the case. The agreement, which is embodied in a consent decree and must be approved by the court, is the latest development in a case first filed as an individual complaint in 2010.
As part of the decree, which was filed in court today, the State of Illinois has agreed to a court-approved monitor who will oversee a complete overhaul of the system for providing physical health care to some 40,000 state prisoners. The State and the monitor will create a staffing plan for health care professionals in Illinois’ prisons, a plan that addresses the number of medical and dental professionals needed at these facilities, as well as an implementation plan for numerous other system-wide reforms. The agreement contains specific, detailed professional qualifications for physicians and also calls for improvements to health care space and equipment, for new staff dedicated to oversight and infection control, for the implementation of an electronic medical record system, and for the development of a stringent quality assurance program, so that the system can identify and address problems in the delivery of health care before they cause problems for patients.
In the course of pursuing this lawsuit, two court-appointed experts (reporting four years apart) found serious and profound problems in the health care provided in Illinois’ prisons. The most recent report – made public just last month – blamed the poor system for preventable deaths inside Illinois facilities. According to the experts, of the 33 deaths examined, 12 were clearly preventable, another 7 may have been preventable and in 5 other instances the records were so poorly kept that the experts could not make a determination.
A copy of the filing can be found here.
In response to today’s developments, the lawyers for the plaintiffs (all prisoners in Illinois state prisons) issued the following statements:
“We hope this is the beginning of the end of prisoners’ needless suffering and even death. It is a long road, and we are committed to ensuring the necessary changes are made,” said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center.
“Today’s agreement is a victory for 40,000 men and women across Illinois who have suffered because of this inadequate health care system – some of whom have died. The State of Illinois will now be bound by a court-enforceable agreement with specific benchmarks and structure for measuring success. Most important, there will now be a monitor in place to oversee the entire function of the health care system in Illinois prisons. The monitor will be there to demand improvements and accountability – something that has been sorely lacking,” said Camille Bennett, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois.
“It is significant that the State has agreed to very specific professional qualifications for the physicians hired to provide health care in the state’s prisons. The expert reports of 2014 and 2018 both showed that many personnel lacked the professional credentials and experience necessary to offer effective medical care. The result was preventable deaths for several and unnecessary pain and suffering for too many. After ten years of litigation, this is the end of the beginning of change. We can only hope that real change will now start,” added Harold Hirshman, lead trial counsel from Dentons US LLP.
Press release from Uptown People’s Law Center