There are now 30 former or current inmates of Northampton County Prison suing the jail and its outside health-care contractor in federal court, claiming they contracted MRSA infections because of deplorable prison conditions and a lack of proper treatment.
Six lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court in Allentown within the past month on behalf of Troy Miller, a state prison inmate; Anthony Fernandez and Eric Hockin, current Northampton County inmates; Benjamin Whitmore of Center Valley; Michael Peterson of Allentown and Ronald Holota Jr. of Bethlehem, who claim they contracted the bacterial infection formally known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus while locked up in the Easton prison.
The suits say the prisoners developed skin boils that had to be drained of pus and the holes that were left behind have permanently scarred them.
Water leaks, dirty showers, filthy blankets and cells and an inadequate flow of fresh air have fostered a breeding ground for the illness as far back as 2005, according to the lawsuits. Inmates not being required to shower contributed to the outbreak and their cells were not properly cleaned because prisoners were given dirty mop water that was passed from one cell to another and never drained, the lawsuits say.
”Mattresses that had been defecated and urinated on were not cleaned or changed between inmates, and instead were quite often left in place for the next inmate’s use,” according to suits filed by attorney Gerald J. Williams in Philadelphia.
Staff at the prison would often taunt and tease those who had been infected by calling them ”MRSA-naries,” the suit says.
The suits name the county and PrimeCare Medical Inc. of Harrisburg, the jail’s health-care service, as defendants. In addition, Corrections Director Todd Buskirk is named as a defendant.
The county’s outside attorneys in the suits — David J. MacMain and Macavan A. Baird of Philadelphia — did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. Buskirk also could not be reached. Prison officials in 2005 confirmed there had been a MRSA outbreak in the prison.
Williams said both sides of the case are still in the discovery phase — requesting and obtaining information from each other — and no trial date has been scheduled. U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Golden on Jan. 13 ordered all cases in the matter to be joined at least during the discovery phase.
The first of the suits was filed in 2005 by former inmate Gerald R. Schaffer Jr. of Hellertown.
Williams said he expects to file more lawsuits on behalf of prisoners within the next few weeks. He said he believes people are still contracting MRSA at the prison.
”There’s been some improvement, but there are still improvements to be made,” he said.
Two former Bucks County inmates won a $1.2 million jury award in 2005 after claiming they suffered from a MRSA outbreak in jail.
Another suit filed against Bucks County by more than a dozen inmates who claimed to have suffered from MRSA was settled last year. In the settlement, Bucks officials didn’t give monetary awards, but did agree to provide better monitoring and prevention methods for MRSA.