Nebraska inmate’s death could have been prevented, Inspector General’s report says

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – An inmate’s death could’ve been prevented if she would’ve been provided proper preventative care, according to a report from the Nebraska Inspector General. 

Niccole Wetherell, 40, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in late 2019, nine years after undergoing her first Pap smear, according to the report. 

“We don’t fault anyone from the prison where she was at and were providing the medical care,” Inspector General Doug Koebernick said. “Because what we found was that the Department of Corrections didn’t have any way for the medical staff to track preventative measures.”

Cervical cancer, if detected early, is nearly 100% treatable, according to Mount Sinai Health System. 

The Federal Office on Women’s Health recommends that women ages 30 to 65 receive a Pap smear test every three years.

Wetherell went nine years between tests. By the time she died, cancer had spread to her brain, lungs, kidneys and liver, the report said.

After her autopsy, a pathologist reported Wetherell’s cancer was so profound, her female organs were indistinguishable.

The investigation revealed that the Department of Corrections has not followed a state statute signed in 2015 by the Nebraska Legislature.

State law requires the agency to establish an electronic health record system. Instead, the report says the department mostly utilizes handwritten paper records.

Wetherell was serving life in the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York County after being convicted of first-degree murder in 1998.

She entered the system when she was 18 years old and had since become a leader in the prison.  Wetherell also received an Associate Degree through a York College program.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska says they’ve been monitoring the conditions of the state’s prisons and found the standard of health care was not adequate.

“Even though people are in prison, they are entitled to a certain standard of care,” said ACLU Government Liaison Spike Eickholt.

The report says if the Nebraska Department of Corrections does not implement an electronic record system by 2025, they should stop the process and request funds to purchase one from an outside vendor.

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