It’s probably one of the worst fears there is for a parent of a child with diabetes: That their child could suddenly not have access to life-saving diabetes medications.
That is what happened to Carol. Her 31-year-old son Dan, who has had type 1 diabetes since age 18, was sentenced to 60 days at a Minnesota county jail for a misdemeanor offense. It may not seem like a very long time, but for someone with type 1 diabetes, 60 days of potentially receiving very poor diabetes care can be life-threatening.
Just 10 days after being incarcerated, Dan was already experiencing physical symptoms from constant high blood glucose levels. He was being denied access to appropriately timed insulin—and was being punished for demanding to see a nurse or requesting insulin. Dan was extremely anxious and felt helpless about his situation. He resorted to not eating in order to keep his blood glucose from going even higher. This resulted in jail officials deeming him a danger to himself and placing him in lock-up.
Dan was doing his best to advocate for himself from within the facility. On three different occasions, he filed grievances about the lack of diabetes care, and those grievances were refused. He requested to be taken to the emergency room because of how ill he was feeling (weakness, blurry vision, back and side pain that he associated with his kidneys, etc.) and that was also refused.
Carol used the facility’s online system to put money in a phone account for Dan, so he could call and inform her of what was going on. Dan was scared and begged for help. He told his mother this was the worst situation he’d ever been in. He had never felt as ill because of his diabetes as he did when he was in jail, and he feared for his life and well-being.
Carol, too, was trying to advocate for better care for her son from her home in Michigan, but to no avail. She had Dan’s personal doctor send his prescribed insulin regimen and medicine to the jail in an effort to educate the jail medical unit. Carol also spoke with jail officials and was told that they limit insulin in order to protect staff and themselves from liability. Carol also spoke with the Sheriff on two occasions, but those conversations were not productive.
Aside from the poor diabetes care he was receiving, Dan was also denied access to a work release program that the judge approved him for—a program that would have allowed him an earlier release from jail. Officials were denying him access because his blood glucose levels were too high, a condition that they were responsible for causing and that only they could correct.
All of this amounted to one thing: Dan was being discriminated against because of his diabetes. He went five weeks without proper diabetes care. It was a horrifying experience.
Then, Dan told Carol about a time that he fainted in front of other inmates and guards; rather than get him medical help, the guards removed him and put him in isolation. That’s when she called the American Diabetes Association® for help for her son.
Carol spoke to a Legal Advocate who gave her information about her son’s rights and guidance on how to move forward. The Legal Advocate also sent information directly to Dan and referred the case to Tim Phillips, a Minnesota attorney who is a member of the Association’s Advocacy Attorney Network.
Dan used the information and sample language provided by the Legal Advocate to write a fourth grievance, which was finally accepted by jail officials. At the same time, Phillips sent letters to the Sheriff’s office and to the jail’s medical unit demanding adequate care and access for Dan.
Immediately, Dan began receiving his insulin as prescribed, including corrective insulin, and blood glucose checks as needed. His health improved and he was allowed work release for the last few weeks of his sentence.
Phillips was very pleased that jail officials finally decided to do the right thing. He encourages other attorneys to take on these cases: “Prisons and jails aren’t safe for anyone. Attorneys should intervene on behalf of people whose rights are violated, whether by writing letters or filing lawsuits.”
Dan did not stop there. He shared the information he received from the Association with other detainees with type 1 who were not receiving adequate diabetes care. He talked to them about their options and used the materials to educate them about their rights.
“This is when he learned how important it is to have a family member or someone on the outside to assist with making contact with administrators, sheriff, prosecutor, among others,” Carol says of her son. “So many inmates do not have the benefit of a caring family member or friends.”
“Thank you [ADA] so much for all your help in getting him the help he needed during his time in [the] Minnesota jail system. We are both very appreciative of your efforts, calls, referrals and materials that gave Dan a voice in his diabetes care during incarceration.”
The American Diabetes Association leads the effort to prevent and eliminate discrimination against people with diabetes at school, at work and in other parts of daily life. If you need help, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit http://diabetes.org/gethelp.
Learn about the rights of individuals in detention and strategies to obtain adequate medical care.
Give the gift of fairness — donate now to help people with diabetes facing discrimination, just like Dan.