Yvonne Newkirk would talk to her 60-year-old brother Edward Ball on the phone almost every day. He was serving time at a state prison in Luzerne County, where he would also write to her every week. Then, in mid-November, all contact ended.
After three weeks of silence, Newkirk was desperate, and asked prison officials where he was housed, SCI-Dallas, for help. But staff there refused to give her answers, citing a federal act meant to protect a person’s private medical information.
For two days, she called the prison nonstop, and, eventually, a sympathetic nurse explained her brother had been hospitalized and intubated after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis weeks before, she said. Despite being his emergency contact and power of attorney, Newkirk said, she was never called, and prison officials wouldn’t tell her what hospital was treating him.
She guessed he was at the nearest medical unit to the prison, Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. But hospital staff wouldn’t confirm. She remembers staff telling her that, because her brother was a ward of the state, she needed to get any information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
When she called the prison back, the staff again denied her information.
“They didn’t tell me anything,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘We can’t prove who you are over the phone.’ ”
On Dec. 11, Newkirk got a call from the Wilkes-Barre hospital. Her brother was dead.
“[Corrections] didn’t even call to tell me,” she said, adding that a week later, they still have not talked to her about how to retrieve her brother’s belongings, or what happened to him.
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