By PHIL DRAKE
HELENA – Two state senators met this week with an inmate who has asked prison officials for more medical treatment for two large hernias.
Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, said he and Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, both members of the state Legislature’s Law and Justice Interim Committee, met Wednesday with Ronney Harriman (pictured at right in 2009 photo) at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.
Murphy said the hernias were enormous.
“It’s kind of shocking,” he said. “It’s about the size of a cantaloupe.”
The state had operated on his hernias in 2007, but problems persist, Harriman said. Photos of Harriman came to the attention of the committee on Dec. 15. Department of Corrections Director Mike Ferriter told the panel he would report back to them.
Ferriter said he could not imagine doctors not giving medical treatment to a person with that level of need. He said the DOC spent $12 million on medical costs last year and complimented the doctors who looked after the inmates.
His comments were echoed by Linda Moodry, the prison’s public information officer.
“We take all of our medical care of inmates seriously,” she said. “Our inmates receive excellent care.”
According to the DOC website, Harriman is in prison for driving under the influence, criminal endangerment and for being a persistent felony offender. He was sentenced Feb. 15, 2007, in Flathead County. Harriman, who said he was sentenced to 40 years with 25 of those years suspended, admits to a troubled past and notes that he got three DUIs within five years.
Harriman sued for surgery and lost his case in Montana 3rd Judicial District Court in Powell County in 2009. His attorney, Patrick Flaherty, said the state told him they were monitoring his condition and surgery was not necessary.
The 50-year-old Harriman recently wrote to Dr. Elizabeth Rantz, medical director of MSP and the “Board of Medical Directors,” asking for help.
“The (two) hernias I have are slowly killing me, I am in constant pain and I am stressed constantly,” he told officials in the Nov. 13 letter.
Murphy said he and Shockley spent about a half hour talking with Harriman with a prison official present. He said Shockley took photos of Harriman, who told them he keeps the hernias in place with elastic straps. He said he and Shockley also met with Rep. Cynthia Hiner, D-Deer Lodge, who also works as a nurse at the prison.
Murphy said he learned about prison procedures. He was told Harriman would have to request surgery and then they’d have find a doctor willing to do the surgery. He said the prison could not order him to have the surgery or order a doctor to perform it. The state would pay for the treatment.
“With a hernia that size it doesn’t seem to be a simple surgery,” Murphy said.
The Law and Justice Interim Committee is expected to discuss Harriman at its Feb. 23-24 meeting.