P.O. Box 191
Raleigh, NC 27602
June 1, 2016
To the editor of the People’s Forum,
On May 29th, late Sunday night, death row prisoner Bernard Lamp began bleeding to death in his cell. Since it was after 11:00pm, a time when every prisoner around the state is locked in a cell for the night, there was no way for Lamp to communicate his medical emergency to staff. There is no intercom in the cells, nor was any officer in the area because the hourly count was twenty minutes away. So Lamp beat on the wall of his cell and weakly called out for help.
The prisoner in the cell next to Lamp hear him and, with the help of the other prisoners, began screaming for the CO and kicking their doors. One of the janitors taking out the trash heard the commotion, found out what the problem was, and alerted staff. The officer in the control booth opened the cell door of Lamp and the neighbor, but there was nothing to be done for a man who lay in a pool of his own blood.
After roughly five minutes the shift sergeant showed up, saw the blood and radioed in a medical emergency; there was no nurse on the death row unit. Three more officers arrived after several minutes with a backboard used to transfer someone to a gurney, but no gurney. The four female staff and prisoner struggled to strap Lamp to the backboard and lift him. Rather than bring Lamp through the top tier emergency exit to the elevator, he was carried head-first down a flight of stairs where he choked and vomited more blood. Fifteen minutes passed from the time Lamp’s cell door opened and no medical staff ever arrived to help.
By the time Lamp was strapped to a gurney and wheeled to the hospital the shift sergeant called in a medical emergency on the radio twice and not a single nurse or medical technician responded. Bernard Lamp bled to death en route to the multi-million dollar hospital connected to Central Prison, a new facility intended to address some of the many medical problems at CP.
Prior to Lamp’s death he had alerted medical staff that he was not feeling well and seemed to be experiencing complications from a recent stomach surgery. There is no question that in the days leading to his death Lamp ever received adequate medical attention. He did not. At CP there is spotty sick call procedure prisoners must follow if they want help for an injury or illness. A form is filled out describing the nature of the ailment and is then put into a sick call box on the unit. The forms are collected Monday through Friday and the prisoner is usually seen by a nurse within three days to assess the complaint. Based on this initial screening a referral to a doctor is made, or not. It generally takes 1-2 weeks to see a doctor, or sometimes just a physician’s assistant.
Even seeing a doctor is no guarantee of adequate medical care. You’re as likely to be prescribed hydrocortisone cream for a staph infection or Ibuprofen for a torn ACL as actually get the right treatment, which may be months away. By the time you see a specialist for a given ailment, whatever he or she prescribes must be approved by the Utilization Review Board (UR).
The UR is a group of doctors who review a prisoner’s medical file, the diagnosis of the doctor, and the suggested treatment. They determine whether an inmate gets an Ace bandage or knee surgery, name brand or generic medicine, or nothing at all. It doesn’t matter if a specialist from an outside hospital prescribes the treatment after surgery—the UR board has the final say. They are the gatekeepers between recovery from a serious illness or succumbing to it, and every decision made by medical staff is influenced as a result.
If the UR board is wrong about a decision to withhold treatment or use a cheaper, less effective medication, there is no recourse for prisoners. Yes, there is an internal grievance remedy procedure, but it merely co-signs staff decisions and reiterates policy. Filing a medical grievance against the UR board has never returned a positive result for a prisoner. A lawsuit is possible, but this requires knowing how to file a claim or relying on a lawyer willing to help. The process can take years, though, when the matter could be the difference between life and death.
A few weeks ago the N&O published an article about the aging death row population, and how the slow appellate process and lack of executions means an increased average age on death row. This was written in response to the deaths of Jerry Cummings and James Williams, but the article did not mention how both men had severe medical conditions. Like Bernard Lamp, they depended on the decisions of medical staff and the UR board to provide an adequate level of care. None of them received it. Now, three death row prisoners are dead inside of six months, a feat not even the NC Legislature has been able to accomplish in the last decade because of a de facto moratorium on executions. Apparently, they’ve found another way.
Lyle C. May
Lyle C. May 0580028
4285 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4285