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DOC: More employees fall ill at SCI-Somerset

September 1, 2018

Three employees at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset fell ill Thursday after passing out the evening meal. A fourth became sick while attempting to purge bad air from the cell, according to Susan McNaughton, communications director for the state Department of Corrections.

“While passing out the evening meal tonight at SCI Somerset, three employees opened a cell door to hand inmates their meal trays,” McNaughton wrote in an email Thursday. “Inmates were observed smoking an unknown substance. A short period later, all three employees reported feeling ill, dazed and flushed.”

McNaughton said the employees, who were not identified, were sent to the prison’s medical department for an assessment.

“All three had elevated heart rates, and all three are being taken to Somerset ER for evaluation,” she wrote in the email, which was sent shortly after 6 p.m.

At 6:40 p.m. a state prison officer began to feel lethargic after he opened the plumbing chase outside the cell in an attempt to remove air from the cell.

McNaughton said he was seen by the prison’s medical department, and it was determined that he needed to be transported to a hospital. An ambulance was called.

“A second officer who was with this officer is also being sent out for evaluation just as a precaution,” she wrote Thursday.

The incident came a day after two correctional officers reported feeling dazed and lethargic after escorting an inmate to the state prison’s medical department. The prison employees were taken to a local hospital.

“I was told that both employees returned to work and are in good spirits,” she wrote in a followup email to the Daily American.

McNaughton said Wednesday that the inmate may have been under the influence of a controlled substance.

Pennsylvania state prisons were put on lockdown Wednesday after employees at 10 prisons, including SCI-Somerset, required treatment from exposure to an unidentified substance.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the lockdown, which suspends inmate visits, was necessary to ensure the safety of correctional officers and to provide the department with an opportunity to assess and control the situation.

“Pennsylvania’s corrections officers put themselves in harm’s way to make our commonwealth safer, and it is up to us to provide them protection from harm,” he said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

“I spoke to (Secretary John) Wetzel today and they continue to work diligently to address the emerging issue of synthetic drugs in our prison system, and my office and I have been supporting his efforts.”

Wetzel announced that in conjunction with the lockdown, all DOC mailrooms would be closed to nonlegal mail and all employees would be required to use personal protective equipment such as gloves.

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