Lawsuit accuses Tampa Bay prison contractor of exposing inmates to HIV from reused insulin needles

"By subjecting incarcerated people to the risk of HIV and other blood borne illnesses, Wellpath violated its duties under the Constitution."

click to enlarge The Pasco County Jail - PHOTO VIA GOOGLE MAPS
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The Pasco County Jail
A class-action lawsuit is accusing a correctional contractor of exposing inmates to HIV by reusing insulin needles at the Pasco County Jail.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by the law firm Peiffer Wolf on behalf of five current diabetic inmates, as well as former inmates at the detention center.

In a press release, the law firm alleged that the issue was discovered in early January 2022, when Peiffer Wolf attorneys learned that a nurse hired by private contractor Wellpath LLC  administered an insulin injection to a diabetic patient who was HIV-positive and then placed that used needle into a multi-dose insulin vial to retrieve more insulin.

The nurse then gave injections to other inmates using insulin from the HIV-contaminated vial, the press release claims. After being confronted about this unsafe injection practice, the nurse acknowledged that she used this method while administering insulin to inmates for the entirety of her employment at the jail, which is believed to be since January 2021.

Most diabetic inmates at the jail received insulin injections twice per day. Peiffer Wolf Sources estimate that the Land O’Lakes detention center has at least 40 diabetic inmates in its custody at any given time, with inmates regularly entering and leaving the jail.

Wellpath has administered HIV tests and given prophylactic medications to some of the inmates but has neither informed them of their potential exposure nor obtained informed consent for the testing and medication. In addition to the known risk of HIV, the nurse’s injection practice likely exposed diabetic inmates to other blood borne diseases, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C, the law firm said.

“Individuals should never be exposed to deadly diseases by their medical providers’ reckless and unhygienic practices,"  Ashlie Case Sletvold, lead counsel for the plaintiffs said, "By subjecting incarcerated people to the risk of HIV and other blood borne illnesses, Wellpath violated its duties under the Constitution. This class action is an important step toward holding Wellpath accountable.”

The individuals responsible for contaminating insulin to inmates may be subject to criminal penalties under Florida law for culpable negligence, but local prosecutors and the Florida Attorney General have yet to investigate or file charges, Peiffer Wolf said.

"There is no evidence that Wellpath has taken any steps to notify the individuals exposed or potentially exposed to contaminated insulin," the press release said. "While some of these people remain in the Land O’Lakes detention center, others have been transferred to different detention facilities throughout the state and country. Still others have been released into the community."

“The Attorney General of the state of Florida and the Pasco County prosecutor’s office should investigate this matter immediately," Kevin P. Conway, partner at the law firm said. "It’s shocking that the Land O’Lakes Detention Center could allow inmates’ lives to be put at risk, but it’s even worse that none of the victims were informed so that they could seek testing or take steps to protect their families."

Conway continued that while Wellpath may be directly responsible for putting these inmates at risk, "it’s the system of private for-profit correctional contracting that allowed this type of recklessness to take place.”

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reached out to the detention center for a response, but has yet to hear back. This post will be updated if a response comes in.