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Former Vaughn inmate lawsuit highlights concerns over inmate health care services

James Morrison
Delaware Public Media

The final report requested by Gov. John Carney after the riot at the Vaughn Correctional Center calls for an independent review of health care services and mental health services at the prison. At least one former Vaughn inmate said he has a terminal cancer diagnosis because his pleas for medical attention there were ignored.

The Delaware Department of Correction pays Connections Community Support Programs Inc. more than $40 million a year for health care services in the state’s prisons. Inmates, even those with private insurance have to get medical care from providers with Connections.

But Steven Sipple said he requested medical attention over 20 times during his 18 months at Vaughn and was ignored. He wasn’t diagnosed with rectal cancer until he sought emergency room care the day he was released. But by then it had spread throughout his body. Sipple is suing Connections for failing to provide timely medical care.

His lawyer Bruce Hudson said he couldn't get the treatment he needed.

“Offenders who are incarcerated in the correctional facilities and are under the care of Connections have no choice in the matter of who they’re seen by and that’s pursuant to a contract and a policy of the Department of Corrections,” Hudson said.

Hudson said doctors they’ve talked to say Sipple wouldn’t have incurable cancer if it had been caught and treated early. He said Sipple hopes the lawsuit will help current inmates to get the medical care they need before it’s too late.

“And in terms of the future for other offenders who are basically captive," he said. "Not only in the penal sense, but their life and their health has been entrusted to this private corporation and they should be held accountable.”

Connections’ current DOC contract for health care runs through June 30th. It can be renewed for two additional two-year periods. It also has a contract with DOC to provide mental health services. Connections declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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