Diary: Inmate got over-the-counter drugs before cancer death
By LISA RATHKE
Nov. 21, 2017
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont inmate who died of cancer at a Pennsylvania prison wrote in a diary that he repeatedly asked for medical care but was denied and given ibuprofen and Tylenol for his pain.
Roger Brown didn't know he had lung cancer, a lawyer for his widow said. The 68-year-old died Oct. 15 at the state prison in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
In a diary obtained by The Associated Press, Brown describes his declining condition and pain from his lungs that started in early August and escalated to searing pain in his back, rib cage and hip that kept him from sleeping.
"He was never given a proper diagnosis and he received absolutely no treatment for the cancer itself. And when the pain got bad they refused to give him anything stronger than ibuprofen, " said Barry Kade, a Montgomery, Vermont, lawyer and prisoner's advocate. "It's my opinion ... that to deny a patient sufficient pain medication in late stage cancer amounts to torture."
Vermont houses some of its prison population out-of-state due to overcrowding. Pennsylvania and Vermont prisons officials said they were reviewing the death. The news website VTDigger first reported on the case.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said it can't discuss individual cases due to privacy concerns. Generally, the agency believes "we provide the level of care needed no matter the inmate, no matter their condition," said Amy Worden, the department's spokeswoman.
Brown, who was serving a six- to 15-year sentence on three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, was among about 270 Vermont inmates transferred in June from a private prison in Michigan to Pennsylvania. He was due to be released in April 2019.
On Sept. 13, Brown wrote that Tylenol wasn't helping his pain. "Couldn't get out of bed for 2 days. Wicked pain and burning in rib cage, back, and hip."
On Sept. 24: "No sleep last night, long hours in pain. Ibuprofen makes be groggy but doesn't do much for pain."
On Sept. 25: "Can't sleep at night. Hip on fire, painful." He writes that he thinks his hip is broken and it feels like his back is breaking in half when he coughs.
Two days later his back went in spasms and he had trouble breathing, he wrote. He said the doctor ordered pain medications but when he went to pick them up, they hadn't come in.
When Brown couldn't concentrate or sit up long enough to write, his cellmate took over the entries.
Oct. 2: "I had the sergeant declare a medical emergency because Roger was in so much pain. I wheeled him up to medical. We were refused! The short nurse on duty told Roger 'chronic pain is not a medical emergency. ... It was all in his head,'" cellmate Clifton Matthews wrote.
He later wrote that they were continually "rebuked and refused medical attention." Brown was admitted to infirmary on the evening of Oct. 14, according to Matthews. He died the next day.
Brown's treatment or lack of treatment in Pennsylvania is inconsistent "with what we expect in Vermont," said Defender General Matthew Valerio on Tuesday.
"He wasn't getting any type of kind of palliative care or end-of-life care," he said.