Home News The Story of Paula Gardner’s Battle with Terminal Cancer in Prison

The Story of Paula Gardner’s Battle with Terminal Cancer in Prison

The Story of Paula Gardner's Battle with Terminal Cancer in Prison

The Cost of Neglect

Paula Gardner's life took a devastating turn while incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. Despite concerning test results indicating possible early stages of cervical cancer, Gardner's pleas for medical attention were ignored mainly. It wasn't until her condition had progressed to Stage IV cervical cancer, spreading to her lymph nodes and becoming untreatable, that the gravity of her situation was acknowledged.

In a sobering conclusion to her battle for healthcare, the Washington State Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit for $9.9 million for failing to provide Gardner with the necessary medical care. This settlement, as reported by The Seattle Times, underscores a series of deadly and expensive healthcare failures within state prisons.

A Timeline of Missed Opportunities

Gardner's journey through the prison healthcare system was marked by missed opportunities and systemic oversights. Initially incarcerated for drug and burglary convictions, Gardner's medical history showed clear warning signs of cervical cancer as early as 2011. Despite abnormal cells identified during a Pap smear and the presence of a high-risk HPV genotype, follow-up care and essential screenings were not administered in a timely fashion.

Recommendations for additional testing, including a follow-up ultrasound and an MRI after a 1.9-centimeter growth was found in her uterus, were not acted upon. The delay in diagnosis and treatment culminated in a terminal cancer diagnosis in March 2021, a situation that Gardner's lawsuit claimed could have been prevented with proper medical attention.

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The Broader Implications


Paula Gardner's story is a heart-wrenching example of the broader issues plaguing the healthcare system within correctional facilities. The Department of Corrections' failure to diagnose and treat Gardner's cancer timely reflects a systemic problem highlighted in a 2021 ombudsman report. This report identified multiple cases where the DOC mishandled cancer diagnoses or treatment, indicating a need for significant reform.

In response to growing criticism, the DOC has taken steps to improve healthcare for incarcerated individuals, launching a Patient-Centered Medical Home in 2022 focused on prevention and improving access to inmate health records.

The settlement awarded to Gardner, while a financial acknowledgment of the DOC's failures, does little to compensate for the pain and suffering endured by Gardner and her family. It serves as a stark reminder of the importance of healthcare access and quality, even within the prison system.

Gardner's hope, shared by her legal representatives from Connelly Law Offices, PLLC, is that her experience will spur meaningful changes to women's healthcare in corrections, ensuring that no one else suffers a similar fate.

The tragic narrative of Paula Gardner underscores the critical need for healthcare reform in correctional facilities, emphasizing the human cost of neglect and the urgent call for accountability and improvement.

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