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Mississippi Woman Claims Prison Medical Providers Neglected to Treat Her Cancer

A formerly incarcerated woman facing terminal breast cancer is suing the Mississippi prison system’s former and current health care providers for failing to diagnose and treat the disease until it spread in her body. Susie Annie Balfour, 62, of Memphis, is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that alleges prison medical officials acted with deliberate indifference because they knew for years that she might have cancer, but they did not order a biopsy to confirm until November 2021, Mississippi Today reports. Over the course of a decade, Balfour had at least eight mammograms at Merit Health Central in Jackson. That number is less than the annual mammograms and later twice a year mammograms outside doctors recommended after each of her visits, according to the lawsuit.  Stage 4 cancer has metastasized and spread to Balfour’s lymph nodes, bones and other parts of her body. She said she’s trying to stay encouraged and do what she can.  “I never know when my time will be up, but until then I’m not going to stop fighting,” said Balfour, who was incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for over 30 years and released on parole in December 2021. 


The complaint alleges the contract between the Mississippi Department of Corrections – which is not named as a defendant – and former medical contractors Wexford Health Sources and Centurion of Mississippi and current contractor VitalCore Health Strategies created financial incentive for the companies to withhold necessary and lifesaving care to incarcerated people.  How that manifested was reduced outpatient referrals and hospitalizations and encouragement of conservative care to cut costs, according to the complaint.   “This is just another avenue to draw attention to what’s happening in the prisons,” said Andrew Tominello, who is representing Balfour.  Balfour first asked prison medical staff for a mammogram in June 2011.  After that visit, doctors recommended she return for follow-up annual mammograms to monitor any changes in calcifications found in her right breast. By 2016, doctors recommended she have mammograms every six months.  It wasn’t until Nov. 3, 2021, that a biopsy revealed Balfour had an invasive, malignant cancer in her breast, court documents state.  The lawsuit alleges VitalCore was aware of the doctors’ findings from the November visit and did not inform Balfour about the cancer until days before her release on Dec. 27, 2021. 


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