By Timothy Hinkhouse
From PHN Issue 40, Summer/Fall 2019
Being in prison away from our families and friends takes a toll on us, which can lead to unexpected illnesses. We have to navigate our way through the jail/prison health care processes in order for us to get the treatment we need and in a timely manner, so we can live to see another day.
I had wanted to get a copy of my last blood work from my medical file so I can closely monitor my HIV viral load, CD4s, my liver function, etc. When I wrote to our medical department, this is a direct quote of what was written back: “Release of information contained in an inmate’s health record shall occur only when properly requested upon receipt of a fully completed authorization form signed by the inmate. A complete signed CD-28 should also accompany the request. In compliance with the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 192563, the Oregon Department of Corrections will apply charges to each request for health care records. $1.25 for each page for pages 1 through 10, and then $0.25 for each additional page thereafter.”
To give some clarity, a CD-28 is the equivalent to an inmate writing a check to cover this expense as long as there are funds in our trust accounts. I have to say that the prices are expensive, which is discouraging to some inmates, because I can get a legal document copied in the law library at $0.10 per page. Make sure that you send a request to your medical department asking them how to obtain a copy of your medical records, so you will know what the costs are and the paperwork you will have to fill out.
When you finally get copies of your medical records, there will be words and, of course, medical terminology that you may not have heard before or even understand. My best advice to you would be that you send a nurse a communication asking to have things explained to you while answering all of your questions.
You may want to ask questions such as the following:
- Are there test results or other information that medical staff never told me about?
- How will these records help me keep track of what tests I’ll need?
- What exactly are these medications I am taking, and what are they for?
- Are there other treatment options available for me? What are they?
I believe that it’s better to have the records pertaining directly to what it is you are being treated for, so you can stay on top of your own health care. We are our own best advocates, and we have to stay informed of what is going on inside of our bodies. This will allow us to make fully informed decisions about our lives while we are incarcerated.
There is also another reason to obtain copies of our medical records. You may need them to use as supporting documents for a lawsuit against the medical department at your facility. Getting the records now will prevent the possibility of your records possibly being “lost” when you actually need them.
I knew a man who, from his first day in prison, would pay for copies of everything that medically involved him. While he was collecting these documents for his personal records, he was also making sure that nothing would disappear from his files. That way, when he ultimately filed a civil suit against the prison we were in, it didn’t matter what was in his medical file, because he and his attorney had what they needed to prevail in court. That is another reason to keep copies of medical records on the streets for safekeeping, if possible.
I take a pen and paper with me when I see my doctor, to take notes of things he says so I can remember them later. This also helps me to remember the questions that I will have for him by having them written down. If there is something that shows up via a recent blood draw, I can make a note of that and write down the exact spelling of this new find.
If you ever have questions about your health that aren’t being addressed, you may want to go to the law library and ask for the address of your state medical board, and complain about your doctor. If the nurses are giving you the runaround as well, then you should contact your state nursing board and complain to them as well. These organizations hold their certifications to practice in their fields. If they are failing you as a practitioner, then why shouldn’t their lack of professionalism be challenged at the certification levels?
This is your life! Don’t let incompetence make you suffer any more than you already have to deal with. Jails and prisons are stressful enough, so why put up with more stress if you don’t have to? Get your medical files and be your own advocate.