FOX 8 Investigates: OPP nurse claims unsanitary conditions - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

FOX 8 Investigates: OPP nurse claims unsanitary conditions

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It is home to 2,000 of some of the city's worst offenders.

Besides people convicted of crimes, the Orleans Parish Prison also houses hundreds of people awaiting trial, innocent until proven guilty under our constitution. And it's been under the federal microscope.

"It's almost two years since the Justice Department released its findings, and in two years nothing has improved," says Marjorie Esman with the ACLU.

Pictures sent to FOX 8 from a nurse inside Orleans Parish Prison over the past four months show hyperdermic needle tubes, called vacutainers. They are used to draw blood from dozens of high risk prisoners each day. The Occupational Safety Health Administration has strict rules governing their use.

“The advisory says to dispose of the equipment after you draw blood for the health care worker, and the patient," says Catherine Lopez, Assistant Dean with LSU Health Science Nursing Dept.

Two years after a federal report blasted the prison for unsanitary conditions, a nurse who works in one of five prison clinics has come forward to tell FOX 8 that vacutainers are being re-washed in scrub sinks and used again.

"They're washing and reusing them in the sink.They're running hot water over them. That isn't sterile," says a nurse at OPP who did not want to be identified.

The vacutainers are supposed to be used new on each patient, taken right out of a sterile, sealed package for the protection of both the nurse and the patient.

"The person who's washing them could be exposed if there's a splash of fluid. Anyone exposed could have problems with potentially infected blood," Lopez said.

Aside from an OSHA advisory, the vacutainers say "do not re-use" on the outside of each container.

"Any of these containers could have blood or body fluids on them," says Lopez.

The allegations are especially troubling since the American Clinical Association says America's prisons have an infectious disease rate three to five times that of the outside world. HIV, hepatitis, and many types of sexually transmitted diseases are common behind prison walls.

"Some of these people who get a blood borne disease could get a death sentence," Lopez said.

It's a situation that's troubling to the American Civil Liberties Union which has been monitoring problems at Orleans Prison for years.

"All these things persist, and everyone's waiting for something to change. The longer it takes, people will suffer," said Esman.

Experienced nurses worry about the risks being placed on prisoners.

"I've been in seven different nursing homes and never seen it happen," said FOX 8's confidential source.

Lopez says she has never heard of vacutainers being reused or rewashed.

The Justice Department report of September 2009 cited unsanitary conditions as being a serious health threat to inmates and those inside say little has changed.

"I told the Director of Nursing and he said, 'thanks for bringing it to our attention and we will look into it.' But nothing has changed," said FOX 8's source.

The ACLU continues to watch closely.

"We know there's inadequate medical care," said Esman.

"They did wrong. They're paying for it. They still deserve attention. That whole building needs to be condemned." said the source.

She's hoping that by coming forward, conditions inside Orleans Parish Prison will improve and lives will be saved.

The Sheriff's office declined an on camera interview.

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