August 14, 2013 10:38 am

Court settlement mandates improvements in medical care for HIV-positive detainees at Bureau County jail

Mr. Arick Buckles

The Bureau County Sheriff’s Office will improve health care for detainees with HIV at the county jail as a result of a settlement agreement reached by the parties to an action pending in federal court in Peoria. The changes are designed to insure that HIV-positive detainees are given prompt access to critical medications.  The agreement also includes a payment of $20,000 from the Sheriff’s Office. The settlement comes in a lawsuit filed last year by a Chicago man detained for seven days in 2010 at the Bureau County Jail in Princeton, Illinois who was denied the prescribed medications to manage his condition, despite repeatedly telling officials about his condition.

Arick Buckles was detained in the Bureau County facility from September 29 through October 6, 2010. Despite his repeated requests to see a doctor and get access to his medications, Mr. Buckles received no medication during his seven-day detention.

“It was a difficult experience — I told the staff each day about my HIV status and the need for my medications and I was ignored,” said Mr. Buckles. “The lack of action caused me enormous anxiety and concern.  My hope is that this settlement – and the promised policy changes and training – will ensure that no one ever has to experience this anxiety every again.”

Mr. Buckles works as an HIV/AIDS counselor in Chicago. Because of this work, he knew that his medications were life-saving and that an interruption in the HIV treatment was dangerous.  Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services own guidelines emphasize the importance of adherence to the prescribed medication regimens to reduce “HIV-associated morbidity and prolong the duration and quality of survival.”

Under the settlement filed in federal court in Peoria, the Bureau County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to alter four (4) policies concerning medical care and privacy for prisoners at the jail. In addition to the new policies, the Sheriff’s office will conduct mandatory training for all jail staff to better inform personnel about HIV and the necessity of insuring continued access to medications for persons with HIV.

Mr. Buckles believes that these changes and the training will make it more likely that individuals with HIV under the custody and control of Bureau County Jail will receive their prescribed ART medications within the time interval specified for administering those medications.

Records obtained by the ACLU of Illinois make clear that Bureau County officials were motivated not by concerns for Mr. Buckles’ health, but by cost concerns. The Jail’s Medical Progress Notes describe the medications that Mr. Buckles takes each day as “costly” and “only issues monthly.” The staff also said that as part of the medical plan that they would “[n]otify the attorney of Bureau County . . . update him with this medical info that would be very costly for the Bureau County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Bureau County had an obligation under the Constitution to provide the medical care necessary to protect the health of Arick Buckles,” said John Knight, LGBT & AIDS Project Director at the ACLU of Illinois.  “This time they failed.  They apparently placed a greater importance on saving money than on the crucial health care needs of Arick Buckles.”

“We hope this settlement and the resulting changes in Bureau County jail’s policies will help make sure that no one lives through the seven-day nightmare that Arick experienced.”

The ACLU of Illinois is being assisted in this matter by the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn LLP, especially Samuel Park and Dan Hoang.  Winston & Strawn LLP is assisting with this matter as a part of its pro bono program.

You can read a copy of the settlement here.