Inmates take DOC back to court over women's prison health care

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Three years after the Virginia Department of Corrections settled a class action lawsuit brought by inmates at the Fluvanna Women's Correctional Center alleging inadequate medical care, the matter is back in court with inmates alleging that the medical care remains unacceptable.

In a week-long motions hearing that began Monday in federal court in Charlottesville, attorneys for the plaintiffs said the prison has not complied with terms of the settlement and that inmates are suffering and have died as a result.

In an opening statement, attorney Angela Ciolfi of the Legal Aid Justice Center said the prison has made no changes to the staffing plan, has kept the same private contractor for health care, and has made no changes to the way the system is funded.

"It's absolutely a system that was set up to end needless suffering at Fluvanna and was destined to fail from the beginning," Ciolfi said.

The defense disputed that characterization in its opening statement, with attorney Katherine Londos saying that even before the settlement was signed in February 2015, "There has been constant change and improvement at Fluvanna."

In afternoon testimony on Monday, 59-year-old inmate Andrea Nichols took the stand and described how her health declined since she arrived at FCCW 13 years ago.

She said she experienced severe abdominal cramping and rectal bleeding beginning in December 2014, but despite multiple complaints and visits to medical staff at the prison, she did not receive a colonoscopy for three years.

Earlier this year, after undergoing a colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with a stage four malignancy that had metastasized to her liver.

She told the court how it felt to seek medical help for so long and not get it.

"I was scared, losing a lot of blood," said Nichols, who said she had lost 50 pounds over the course of her illness. "You feel helpless because you don't get any help."

The motions hearing will continue through Friday. Plaintiffs are asking the court to find the defendant in contempt.

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