Scabies Outbreaks Confirmed At 2 Arizona Prisons In 4 Months

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Friday, October 26, 2018 - 4:47pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 11:53am

Valorie Kitaj’s son Matthew is incarcerated at the state prison in Tucson. When she went to visit him recently he complained about what he thought was a bug bite. “He said, ‘Mama, I got eaten by a spider.’”

But soon all the men in his unit started having similar symptoms — and it got worse.

“He told me there was one boy in there with open, weeping sores,” Kitaj said of a recent call with her son, who was growing more desperate.

She says Matthew had been putting in written requests and asking for help from prison officials for weeks.

“The inmates were the ones that were catching on, which I think is pathetic, because they all had these rashes,” she said. “They knew they had fleas or parasites or something.”

They had scabies.

Kitaj said a correctional officer confirmed to her on Oct. 15 that there was an outbreak in the Manzanita Unit at the Tucson prison.

But Kitaj says her son and his fellow inmates were not receiving proper treatment. She says she has spoken with another mother of an inmate who was not receiving treatment in the unit and feared speaking out.

Kitaj says her son told her the inmates were receiving the antihistamine Vistaril, but no treatment for the scabies. She said her son had not been able to see a doctor and had only been seen by a nurse, who was unresponsive to his pleas for help.

After exhausting her attempts to contact the Arizona Department of Corrections and its health care provider, Corizon Health, Kitaj said she lost patience with the system.

“I told them I was going to raise holy hell,” she said.

Kitaj contacted KJZZ about the outbreak the next day.

ADC referred all questions about the scabies outbreak at the Tucson prison to Corizon Health, which communicated to KJZZ via a spokesperson who works for the communications and public affairs firm First Strategic.

When contacted for a response to the outbreak, Nicole Capone, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Health Services, cited the Arizona Administrative Code, saying, "Scabies outbreaks are required, per A.A.C R9-6-202, to be reported within 24 hours to the local health department."

First Strategic Director Of Communications Bob Charles said Corizon notified both DHS and the Pima County Health Department about the outbreak, however neither department was able to verify that it had received a notification about the outbreak from Corizon.

A records request for the notification from Corizon to DHS returned no results. DHS spokesperson Melissa Blasius-Nuanez could not confirm that the department was notified. In an email, Blasius-Nuanez emphasized that the Arizona Administrative Code requires that Corizon report an outbreak to the county health department, not the state.

Aaron Pacheco, a spokesperson for the Pima County Health Department, said the agency was not notified by Corizon.

Pacheco said a search for a record of the fax that Corizon says it sent to the Pima County Health Department returned no results. Pacheco said if Pima County officials had received such a notification, they would have launched an investigation. Pacheco said no such investigation was launched.

Pacheco said the normal procedure after an outbreak is identified includes working with the affected agency to see if it needs assistance, offering guidance on best practices, and determining if the outbreak has been resolved.

Charles provided KJZZ with a copy of the fax he said Corizon employees sent to both DHS and Pima County.

Charles said Corizon had followed the reporting regulations and did contact the state and county agencies.

“At this point, if Pima doesn’t have it … that’s a Pima issue, not a Corizon issue,” he said.

Fax reportedly sent from Corizon to the Pima County Health Department.
Fax reportedly sent from Corizon to the Pima County Health Department and DHS.

Charles confirmed a scabies outbreak that affected “approximately 30” people in the Manzanita unit.

He said Corizon is certain it reported the outbreak within the required 24 hours.

“There were concerns of a 'rash' reported on the evening of 10/8. On 10/9 providers were at the Manzanita unit and diagnosed and started treatment of those identified. By 10/10 all had been treated,” Charles said.

“Corizon has a well-defined protocol based on CDC guidelines for effective and rapid treatment and confinement that addresses medications, restricted movement, bedding and personal belongings among other issues to limit and prevent further instances from occurring,” Charles said.

He added that “Permethrin cream is the preferred manner of treatment for this diagnosis.”

But Kitaj contacted KJZZ on Oct. 16, saying her son had not received treatment. KJZZ reached out to the Department of Corrections the same day.

Charles confirmed that, “additional treatments occurred on 10/16 to assure there was not a reoccurrence.”

Second Scabies Outbreak In Four Months

This is the second scabies outbreak in an Arizona prison in four months.

The Cochise County Health Department confirmed an outbreak occurred in July at the Douglas prison, and was not resolved until October. In a court filing in the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement, Corene Kendrick, an attorney for prisoner advocacy organization Prison Law Office, quoted from notes taken at a monthly staff meeting at the Douglas prison: “Scabies outbreak at Mohave counts as an actual Disaster. This was not considered a drill.”

Douglas staff meeting notes.
Douglas staff meeting notes.

Mohave is a unit at the Douglas prison. The Prison Law Office received the notes through a monitoring process in the Parsons case.

Kendrick said the notes indicate more than 64 people were infected with scabies at the Douglas prison.

Cochise County did not confirm the actual number of people infected. In an email, Carrie Langley, health director, confirmed the following information:

"Yes, there was a scabies outbreak reported on July 19, 2018 - the outbreak was finalized (meaning resolved) on Oct. 16, 2018. (Meaning no new cases) The investigation was complete Sept. 5, 2018."

Kendrick said there have been outbreaks of scabies and other infectious diseases in Arizona prisons before.

She said the National Commission on Correctional Health Care recommends a more thorough response than what has apparently taken place at the Tucson prison.

“If the people that are infected have a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable, like open sores or rashes, they should be seen by medical staff,” she said. “They should be provided not just lotions and creams to ameliorate the symptoms but also anti-parasitic drugs to treat the underlying infection by the parasite.”

Kendrick says the Prison Law Office recently filed advocacy letters to the court on behalf of elderly and disabled inmates housed at the ADA units at the Florence South prison.

“They were diagnosed with scabies,” she said, “and one inmate was sent to the Eyman prison and put in isolation and solitary confinement.” Kendrick said the other man was confined to a health clinic. Both men were in their 80s.

“That’s a problematic quarantine policy - to put somebody in the highest security isolation units to treat them for a skin infection. These are gentlemen that are normally assigned to a very low security yard.”

Valorie Kitaj said she has spoken with her son after KJZZ first inquired about the outbreak. She says he told her all of the men that were infected had received some form of treatment.

Advocacy Letter 1

Advocacy Letter 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Valorie Kitaj's name.

Arizona Prisons