Health Care

A South Florida prisoner says he is going blind because of untreated glaucoma

Scotty Santos Diaz is suing Centurion, the medical provider for Florida prisons, claiming that his glaucoma has gotten significantly worse due to medical neglect at Dade Correctional Institution, a state prison south of Miami.
Scotty Santos Diaz is suing Centurion, the medical provider for Florida prisons, claiming that his glaucoma has gotten significantly worse due to medical neglect at Dade Correctional Institution, a state prison south of Miami. Florida Department of Corrections

A federal judge has given Dade Correctional Institution until Friday to explain why she should not intervene in the case of a prisoner who says he could lose an eye due to the prison medical staff’s refusal to properly treat his glaucoma.

Scotty Santos Diaz, 55, of Broward County, has been held at the prison south of Miami since he was transferred there in November 2018. Diaz has been serving time on burglary charges since 2008, with his earliest possible release scheduled for August 2026.

Before his transfer from the Central Florida Reception Center outside Orlando, an eye specialist prescribed Diaz eye drops to treat his glaucoma and had ordered that he receive periodic checks to monitor the pressure in his eyes, according to a civil rights complaint filed by Diaz against Centurion, the private medical provider for state-run Florida prisons.

Separately, Diaz filed an emergency request for an injunction, asking a federal judge to intervene in his case and mandate treatment by an eye doctor. Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, often caused by abnormally high pressure in the eyes, sometimes leading to blindness.

But the medical staff at Dade Correctional waited more than five months to allow Diaz access to eye drops that might have headed off a worsening of his condition, Diaz wrote in his complaint, which he filed in the Southern District of Florida.

The Florida Department of Corrections, which operates Dade Correctional, did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.

In Diaz’s request for an injunction, which he filed without a lawyer, he said that he is “unable to put in words the thought of losing total vision in the only eye he has left.”

“To say plaintiff is scared would be a total understatement,” the lawsuit said.

Diaz, who said he had a fellow prisoner type out his lawsuit for him because his vision is too damaged to see well enough, claims that the prison’s failure to treat his glaucoma when he needed the care has significantly worsened his condition.

Specifically, the delay in receiving medication and lack of proper follow-up appointments caused irreversible damage to the optic nerves in both of his eyes and the loss of vision, as well as extreme pain, the lawsuit said.

Due to a delay in dispensing his medication and not providing timely follow-up treatment, Diaz said in his suit that his severe-stage glaucoma has been diagnosed as “uncontrolled.”

He added that he was advised by an eye doctor that “the possibility of removing his right eye may be forthcoming due to uncontrolled [intraocular pressure] levels,” or the amount of pressure inside the eye.

A lack of proper medical treatment is one of the most common complaints among Florida state prisoners.

The DOC is currently under a federal injunction to treat all inmates with Hepatitis C due to a class action filed in 2017. In that case, U.S. Judge Mark Walker said the Department of Corrections has a “long and sordid history of neglecting” inmates with those infections.

Diaz filed his request for an emergency injunction late last month, asking a federal magistrate judge to allow him to see and be treated by a glaucoma specialist.

As a result, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisette M. Reid in Miami ordered the prison to respond to the request, saying, in part, that there is a reasonable likelihood he would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted.

In his civil rights complaint, Diaz details numerous back-and-forth encounters with medical staff at Dade Correctional and supports some of his allegations with medical documentation, though he says other records were either destroyed or lost by the department, or not recorded in the first place.

Though he arrived at Dade Correctional in November of 2018, it was not until the end of April that he received any of his prescription eye drops, Diaz claimed in the lawsuit. By then, the pressure in his left eye had nearly doubled, according to Diaz’s complaint.

Diaz wrote in his request for an injunction that he will be released from prison in the near future and has “already been subjected to the emotional stress of losing total vision in his right eye due to the exact same delays in treating severe stage glaucoma.”

Ben Conarck is a reporter covering healthcare at the Miami Herald, which he joined in August 2019. He was previously an investigative reporter covering criminal justice at The Florida Times-Union. In 2018, he and reporter Topher Sanders recieved Columbia University’s Paul Tobenkin award for outstanding reporting on race and the University of Colorado’s Al Nakkula award for outstanding police reporting for their multi-part investigation “Walking While Black.” Conarck has also extensively covered the Florida prison system.
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