Oregon Public Broadcasting

Babies Get Wrong Breast Milk After Mix-Up At Oregon’s Only Prison For Women

Imagine you’re the mother of an infant. And you pump breast milk every day to nourish your newborn. Then you discover that, despite your effort, your baby has actually been given someone else’s milk. That’s what happened to inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. That’s Oregon’s only prison for women. The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson uncovered this story and joined All Things Considered host Kate Davidson to talk about the mix-up. To hear their full conversation, click play in the audio player above.

Q&A with The Oregonian's Laura Gunderson

Kate Davidson: What exactly happened at Coffee Creek?

Laura Gunderson: Well, there were four women in the program right now. These are women who were incarcerated and then gave birth. They don't actually have the babies there at the facility. But they have the babies, and then the babies go to family members or to case workers or to foster families, who care for them. And to try to keep that bond going and do what they can for their babies while they are at Coffee Creek, the women are allowed to breast feed. They each have their own pumps, and they pump several times throughout the day, take the milk to the medical center, and the medical center nurses put them in a freezer.

I heard from one of the inmates, a woman named Trisha Mart, who discovered from her husband on the outside that when he had gone to feed the baby – everything had been fine – he thought he had fed the baby, he came back and saw that the empty bag on the kitchen counter had another inmate's name on it. 

KD: How was it marked? Was it a formal label or a marker?

LG: It really seems to vary. That was a sticker with somebody's name on it. Trisha had always written her name on it, but I don't think the family recognized at that point it was something they should be checking. There didn't seem to be a rule that when you've submitted your bag to medical center that it had to have a name on it. So when the nurses distributed the milk to the families — the families have to come weekly to pick up the milk – they distribute them into ice chests for the family, and it appeared that when that would happen, there was, you know, confusion, and that families were getting anybody's milk.

When I got the letter from Trisha telling me about this, what struck me is that this is kind of the essence of what a prison is supposed to do: be very clear about what comes in and what goes out.

KD: So we're talking about at least four inmates involved in this breast-feeding program. Is there any health risk to the babies that might occur from having another mother's milk?

LG: Well, definitely the women involved in the program were concerned because they knew at least one of the other inmates had self-reported she had Hep C, Hepatitis C. They also had concerns because, of course, there are women who take medications, both that they have been told to take, but others, they say, take them as contraband, and in addition to medications, also drugs.

KD: Have you talked to any doctors who might indicate whether there is an actual health risk to the babies?

LG: The likelihood seems low. It's more likely that a baby would contract Hepatitis C because its mother had it, and it was something that, in bearing the baby, that's why the baby would have Hep C. There is a small chance that it can be contracted through breast milk, and the doctors I spoke to were pretty sure that probably these babies were OK, but they won't know for sure until 18 months when they can do the test that most accurately tells you whether or not that that disease has been passed on.

KD: I think listeners hearing this right now might think it can't be that hard to correctly label a bag of breast milk. Do you have a sense of whether this was just a systems failure or whether it says something deeper about a cultural problem at the prison?

LG: Well, it struck me as both. The Department of Corrections said that they have addressed this, that they now will not take the milk unless there is a name on it, and they have two nurses who will check through the process that they distribute the ice chest to the family. But at least one of the inmates, a woman named Marcie Harris, felt that throughout the process that she was complaining, that she was punished for complaining, and she was told not to talk about it, not to talk about it to the other mothers or her family or her lawyer. And she felt that that scared her.

KD: Has anything come to light since your first story was published?

LG: Yes. I've definitely heard from another inmate, who says that she and others during the program's time in 2013 had the same experience, and that definitely contradicts what I have heard from the Department of Corrections, who says this is a one-time thing that only happened a couple of times. I know from the inmates today that it happened many times, and it also opened up the issue that families on the outside felt as if they weren't being heard. They were trying to advocate for their family members inside, and they didn't feel they were being listened to.

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Vermont's Loss Over Health Care Data Will Affect Oregon Too

The U.S. Supreme Court told the state of Vermont on Tuesday it can’t force health insurers to hand over data on the amounts they pay for various medical claims.

The ruling means large self-insured companies like Intel, don’t have to give the state their data. In Oregon, about 23% of the population get their insurance through such companies — that’s the combined populations of the cities of Portland, Salem and Eugene.

A decision over health care information may not sound like a big deal, but finding patterns in big data is how Vermont, the Obama administration and Oregon aimed to reduce healthcare costs.

Jesse O’Brien specializes in health care for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and said the court's ruling will affect the efficacy of Oregon's data gathering.

“It doesn’t completely undercut the ability to collect this data, or the usefulness of this data," said O'Brien. "I think it makes the data significantly less representative of the reality of what’s going on."

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Health Officials Find Heavy Metals In Southeast Portland Air

Oregon health officials are warning of unhealthy levels of heavy metals in Southeast Portland's air. They found high levels of cadmium and arsenic at a monitoring station near SE Powell Boulevard and SE 22nd Avenue.

David Monro with the state Department of Environmental Quality said his agency has been studying the correlation between metals in the air and metals found in moss.

It's an ongoing study DEQ is doing with the U.S. Forest Service, Monro said. When the agencies found higher-than-expected levels of arsenic and cadmium in Portland, they decided to publish some of their results early.  

"There's a lot of information right now that we don't have, but we have enough information to know that we have levels of metals in the air that are of concern, and we wanted to start getting that information out to people," Monro said.     

Exposure to heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium can increase cancer risks and damage kidneys, lungs and bones.

Advocacy group Neighbors for Clean Air is connecting the discovery to a possible cancer cluster in Southeast Portland.

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Oregon Senator Seeks Different Way To Develop New Drugs

Sen. Ron Wyden wants to shake up the way we pay for prescription drugs.

He’s issued an open letter asking what new tools the nation needs to address the problem.

Last month the Senate Finance Committee released a study into drug manufacturer Gilead. It showed the company didn’t consider affordability when setting the price of a new Hepatitis C medication at $1,000 a pill.

Wyden, D-Oregon, said the company hardly mentions, in a 20,000-page report, the usual reasons for high prices: research and development.

“Affordability and access was pretty much an afterthought," Wyden said. "All they were interested in was maximizing their revenue."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, joined the Oregon Democrat in the letter. They’re asking what measures might improve price transparency, but at the same time maintain incentives to manufacture new drugs.

Manufacturer Gilead said its new drugs cost less than the old ones and they work better.

Dozens of pharmaceutical companies recently called on the World Economic Forum to develop new ways to pay them for developing antibiotics.

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Portland Non-Profit To Build New Health Clinic And Apartment Complex

A Portland non-profit has unveiled plans to build a new integrated health clinic and low-income apartment complex.

Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare is spending $14 million on an apartment complex for veterans, people with mental disabilities and low-income families.

CEO Derald Walker says it’s also spending $9 million on a new integrated clinic.  

“The head and the body haven’t always been connected. If you want mental health services, [for] depression, anxiety or anything like that, you have to go to one provider, perhaps across town. If you are being seen by a primary care physician, you have to go somewhere else," he said. 

"Everybody that gets served in the clinic for health care will both have behavioral health services, as well as primary health services. That’s very unique.”

Some of the money to build the center is coming from the City of Portland as part of a settlement between the Portland Police Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The new ‘Garlington Center’ is expected to open in 2017.

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