WA woman with tuberculosis held in contempt, faces arrest for failure to get treatment
Feb. 24, 2023 Updated Fri., Feb. 24, 2023 at 8:59 p.m.
A Pierce County Superior Court judge on Friday issued an order of contempt and authorized the arrest of a Pierce County woman who continues to refuse isolation, testing and treatment for tuberculosis.
Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen’s order was in response to a supplemental petition to the court filed by a representative for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on Feb. 17.
Sorensen on Friday wrote that the supplemental petition “for order of contempt and ordering involuntary detention, testing, and treatment is granted” and that “the warrant for civil arrest shall be executed by law enforcement without prior notice at a time on or following March 3. … Law enforcement shall transport Respondent in a transport vehicle appropriate for respondent’s infectiousness to Pierce County Jail.”
The patient was ordered to serve for a period “not to exceed forty-five days to undergo testing and treatment for active tuberculosis and to continue such treatment until medical tests conclusively establish that she no longer presents a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare, whereupon respondent shall immediately be released from detention.”
A hearing via Zoom is scheduled for March 2. The health department has maintained that jail time is a method of last resort in noncompliance cases.
The health department, in a statement to The News Tribune following Sorensen’s order, said via email, “We are always hopeful that a patient will choose voluntary compliance in these situations and get the treatment needed to protect themselves and others.”
It added, “We will continue to work through the legal process and all options available.”
The department did not directly answer whether compliance would ultimately avoid time in jail, but said, “Generally, a patient’s voluntary compliance could potentially impact the desire to pursue further legal action.”
Denise Stinson, communicable disease control program manager for the health department, is the department’s representing health officer in the case filings. In the Feb. 17 filing, Stinson, via the department’s attorney, sought an order “authorizing involuntary detention, testing, and treatment,” in the TB case, because the department had “determined, or has reason to believe, that the respondent continues to be infected … “
The filing stated that Stinson “has determined that (the patient) has not remained in her residence in accord with the court’s orders, nor has she treated or tested to determine the status of her tuberculosis infection.”
On Jan. 20, 2023, Sorensen issued an order authorizing involuntary detention, testing and treatment of the woman, who is not identified in court documents as a matter of patient privacy. According to the case filings, the woman started, then refused continuing treatment for TB after testing positive. The health department first sought court-ordered compliance in January 2022, with orders renewed by the court through 2022. The department, in its filings, said it had “attempted and failed to obtain voluntary compliance for voluntary isolation and treatment.”
On Jan. 30, the health department went public with the case, noting it was “working with her and her family to try to persuade her to get the treatment she needs to help cure the TB so she can protect herself and others.”
On Feb. 3, The News Tribune reported the case had been ongoing for more than a year, citing court records.
The Feb. 17 petition from TPCHD’s Stinson noted that attempts to gain voluntary compliance for isolation, testing and treatment had “failed to obtain” compliance.
“The Local Health Officer has considered other less restrictive alternatives to involuntary detention, testing, and treatment – namely voluntary isolation and treatment – and has determined that such less restrictive alternatives are inadequate to provide the measure of public protection necessary, given the serious and imminent risk to public health and safety posed by the condition or suspected condition,” the petition noted.
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