Inmates at a federal women’s prison camp in Florida say officials are trying to cover up the seriousness of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease that the inmates say has sickened dozens of them over the last two months. The illness is a severe form of pneumonia caused by inhaling the mist of contaminated water, according to medical experts.
In a federal court filing, one inmate, Kara Adams, asked a federal judge for an emergency injunction to force prison officials to treat inmates. The government, in its response, claims there have been only two confirmed cases and 21 suspected cases since the outbreak at the end of last year.
But inmates and their families say the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is purposefully understating the seriousness of the problem and has tested only a small percentage of the prison camp’s inmates.
“If they tested even 20-percent of us, that would be a surprise,” said Denise Bonfilio in a telephone interview for the Brian Ross Investigates program on the Law&Crime Network.
Bonfilio, serving time for a mortgage fraud conviction, says she suffered from swollen glands, a high fever and a burning sensation in her lungs. She says the prison nurse told her she “likely had Legionnaires’” but that she would have to buy any medication she needed at the prison commissary.
“There just seems to be a willful neglect and depraved indifference that exists at this facility,” Bonfilio said.
“She’s supposed to get tested where she is. But everybody in there, I’m sure hasn’t,” Helen Pendland told Brian Ross. Her daughter was transferred out last week.
“[She] begged for medical to see her. Never happened,” she said.
Families and inmates say the prison has now canceled all visitations at the facility, and shut off water for the weekend after reportedly finding the cause of the problem.
“At this time, there are four confirmed cases of Legionella at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Coleman’s minimum security satellite camp only,” a BOP spokesperson told Law&Crime in a statement. “There have been no cases identified at the complex or beyond the prison satellite camp and thus, there are no cases of male inmates with Legionella.”
The BOP told Law&Crime all water samples taken from the facility have tested negative for the Legionella bacteria, but “in an abundance of caution, several measures are being taken to protect the inmate population,” including the installation of new water filtration and sanitation systems.
“The BOP and the Florida Department of Health continue to monitor and evaluate this matter and BOP Health Services staff will continue to evaluate and provide treatment to the inmate population, as clinically indicated,” the spokesperson continued. “Inmates with symptoms of Legionella are provided a chest x-ray, laboratory testing and if indicated, medications to treat the infection. Medications for Legionella have been administered according to appropriate Clinical Practice Guidelines and inmates will continue to be tested and treated according to Clinical Practice Guidelines.”
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Editor’s note: the story was updated post-publication with a statement from the Bureau of Prisons.
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