The Maine State Prison in Warren. Credit: Gabor Degre

A Maine State Prison inmate is leading a class action lawsuit against the Maine Department of Corrections for the state’s alleged failure to provide adequate treatment to inmates suffering from hepatitis C.

An attorney on behalf of Maine State Prison inmate Mathiew Loisel and “a class of similarly situated” inmates filed the lawsuit in federal court in Portland on Wednesday, according to court documents.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Maine Department of Corrections, Commissioner Randall Liberty, Maine State Prison Warden Matthew Magnusson and Wellpath LLC, a contractor that provides medical services within Maine’s prisons.

[Subscribe to our free morning newsletter and get the latest headlines in your inbox]

The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Corrections has refused to treat “hundreds of inmates who are diagnosed with chronic [hepatitis C] until the disease has progressed to the point where they have permanent liver damage,” according to the law firm Berman and Simmons.

Hepatitis C is a contagious disease that affects the liver, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. The virus can either last for a short period of time, or it can become a chronic infection.

“Chronic HCV is a highly communicable and progressive disease that, if left untreated, scars the liver and can cause, among other things, cancer, excruciating pain, and death,” the law firm said.

According to a chain of emails from corrections officials released by the law firm, as of 2017, about 580 inmates in state custody were infected with the virus. However, only three of those individuals received treatment.

The lawsuit claims that the standard of care for patients with chronic hepatitis C is an eight- to 12-week course of daily medications, that cures 90 percent of patients. People whose infections clear up after treatment are no longer able to transmit the disease.

However, the lawsuit alleges that the Department of Corrections denies this type of treatment to inmates with chronic hepatitis C until the disease progresses to the point where they have suffered permanent liver damage.

“This is a grave public health issue,” Loisel’s attorney, Miriam Johnson of Berman & Simmons, said. “The policy of denying appropriate medical treatment to prisoners with chronic HCV is not only cruel and unconstitutional; it also facilitates the spread of a dangerous and costly epidemic. This policy was inherited by the current administration. We are hopeful that the new administration will work with us to put new policies into place to resolve this issue.”

Loisel reached out to Johnson after he filed an independent lawsuit against the DOC earlier this year. Johnson said Wednesday that when Loisel reached out to her, she was “struck by how similar” the allegations were to the lawsuit brought against the Aroostook County Jail for denying a female inmate access to suboxone. The inmate in the Aroostook County case won her lawsuit.

For the class action lawsuit, Johnson is working with the attorneys who represented the inmate in the Aroostook County case. Loisel’s initial lawsuit has been absorbed into the class action lawsuit.

In an email Wednesday afternoon, Liberty said he was unable to discuss the pending lawsuit.