Medical staff at House of Correction faces inquiry

© 2002 MilwaukeePress.Net
A woman who spent 105 days in jail for contempt of court says that nurses at the Milwaukee County House of Correction treated the skin cancer on her face with Band-Aids and hydrocortisone for 2 ½ months and finally destroyed records of her requests to be treated.

Kathy A. Stover had lesions from April through July, she says, and continually pressed the medical staff to test for cancer the facial sores that kept cracking open and bleeding.

 “I told them I had cancer in my family, but they said, ‘No, it can’t be. It’s not infected,’” she tells us.

In the end it was not the skill of the staff but an article in Family Circle magazine describing skin cancer symptoms that convinced nurses that her lesions might be cancerous.

Stover, a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri, was jailed from April 19 to July 30 for refusing to give her adversaries in a civil suit Michael Jahnz (former lead singer to Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon), and Jahnz’s wife Jennifer -- control of computers and files she says are evidence in a separate breach of contract suit involving the same parties.

Circuit Judge David A. Hasher ordered her release after he decided the first case in favor of the Jahnzes, citing lack of further jurisdiction to keep her in jail, according to her lawyer, Robert Sutton.

Among other concerns, Stover claims that she was never given painkillers prescribed by the St. Luke’s surgeon who removed the cancer and when she got back to the House of Correction after the off-site surgery she was put in the “infirmary,” which she said was a filthy solitary cell dubbed “the hole” by other inmates.

She was returned to her regular quarters several hours after she complained of human feces in the sink.

In a meeting with Stover on Tuesday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said he would investigate the allegations. His office confirmed Wednesday that it had made copies of her medical records and would make them available under the state’s open records law. The Sheriff’s Office encouraged her to file a written complaint, Stover says.

None of the allegations has yet been independently verified, but the medical records will give Clarke reason to give or withhold credence to Stover’s allegations that requests to see nurses were destroyed. Because women in the House of Correction cannot see a nurse unless they fill out a request form, and since each visit to a nurse results in a $2.50 debit every time a request is granted, there must be records of requests to see a nurse corresponding to every debit and medical entry. If not, either the requests were destroyed or the commissary charges were illegitimate.

In interviews in June, Clarke told us he favored allowing inmates with resources to be treated by their own doctor. But Stover says that when she asked to see her doctor after the biopsy revealed her lesions were cancerous the nurse refused to allow her to see a private physician. As a result, she was treated by a doctor she did not choose, she said, and all at taxpayer expense.

In an exclusive interview, Stover said that House of Correction employees threatened that inmate mail would be “misplaced” if they were unruly, the all-male nursing staff was insensitive to unique female medical and hygiene needs and medical files were frequently lost or misplaced.

“You’re going to have lawsuit after lawsuit,” she says. “You have the poorest women in a facility that was built by men, for men and run by men.”

She said that after her surgery she vomited for more than a week but it was not learned until she went to a private doctor after her release that she had suffered from a perforated esophagus, but the House of Correction would not release her medical files, she complained to Clarke.

Clarke is cleaning up for former Sheriff Lev Baldwin, who entered into a consent decree with plaintiffs in a class-action suit about inmate conditions and treatment, but who bailed out under the terms of the controversial county pension plan.

Stover says she has notes, including dates, times and names, to help Clarke straighten out conditions at the House of Correction.

And she clearly has a reason for wanting conditions improved. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Kremers has set a hearing for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 27 to hear arguments by Jahnz’s lawyer that Stover should face punitive sanctions under the criminal code for refusing to abide by an order to turn her computers over to Jahnz and his lawyer. At that hearing, a prosecutor from District Attorney E. Michael McCann’s office will be asked to decide whether probable cause exists to bring criminal charges, which could send Stover back to House of Correction.