The state of Washington faces a high-profile lawsuit surrounding the death of a prisoner that could have been prevented with the right kind of medical attention, reports claim. It is clear that this case could well set a precedent for how prisons are forced to treat their patients in the future, and the changes could happen very soon. 

In this case, the prisoner was 57 year old John Kleutsch, who died in 2018 at Monroe Correctional Complex, and whose death was deemed to be a result of negligent medical care at the facility. Kleutsch had been recovering from outpatient cancer surgery, when he returned to the facility with an abdominal incision that was not healing properly. There were concerns that the incision would become infected, and a nurse raised concerns at the build-up of fluid in Kleutsch’s abdomen.  

Former prison medical director Dr. Julia Barnett was asked to move Kleutsch to a hospital, but she refused. Things came to a head when Kleutsch complained of excruciating pain 26 days before his death, and was administered only Tylenol to help with the pain. His condition only worsened, and there appeared to have been no treatment or care plan of any kind. 

A medical expert who reviewed Kleutsch’s medical files was appalled at the condition and the lack of treatment he received. He detailed how the inmate had multiple days of abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, no plan of care, no written notes, and no check ups.

He was eventually deemed unable to eat food orally, and this led to him having to receive intravenous fluids, but the medical staff forgot about this for more than a day. Eventually he was sent to the emergency room, but by this point in the process it was too late and he died August 28th 2018.

The case has already caused controversy due to the lack of experience of Barnett when chosen for the role of medical director, as well as the lack of care and proper attention that was given to Kleutsch during the experience. The lawsuit, filed by Kleutsch’s widow, states that he died from acute pancreatitis and a perforated intestine, neither of which was diagnosed by the prison.  

This lawsuit is claiming a total of $3.25 million against Washington State for medical negligence, and should it prove successful, the case could send seismic shockwaves through correctional facilities across the country. Julai Kleutsch hired Marta O’Brien, a respected medical malpractice lawyer, to take charge of this for her and pursue the compensation she was rightfully owed. 

O’Brien called the case one of the worst medical malpractice cases she had ever encountered.

Barnett backed the lawsuit, pointing the finger at the DOC for leaving her with too much risk and the prison without adequate providers, though she has had her medical licence indefinitely suspended by the Washington Medical Commission. 

This is not the only time the DOC has been on the receiving end of a malpractice lawsuit, with the family of Kenny Williams filing for $10 million in damages as a result of his death from cancer in 2019. It is claimed that the staff at Monroe prison refused to treat him, leading to his death. 

Both of these events, and lawsuits, could radically transform the way prisoners are treated in facilities across the country, and certainly statewide. Indeed, for their 2021-23 budget, the DOC has already pledged an additional 161 staff, as well as an extra $39 million to improve healthcare delivery throughout the prison system.

In the meantime, prisoners who are medically mistreated and their families have every right to hire a medical malpractice lawyer to hold the DOC accountable for a reasonable standard of care for inmates and their health.