Washington State Woman Refuses TB Treatment and Is Found in Contempt of Court

A woman in Washington state who has refused to isolate or receive treatment for tuberculosis (TB) for over a year has been found in contempt of court.[0] This marks the third instance in the past 20 years that the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has sought a court order to detain a potentially contagious patient refusing treatment for TB.[0] Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorenson has signed an order for involuntary detention, testing, and treatment.[0] A civil arrest warrant issued last month remains in effect.[1] If arrested, the woman will be taken to a facility at the Pierce County jail for isolation, testing, and treatment.

Tuberculosis is a serious and contagious bacterial infection that affects the lungs.[2] It is spread through the air and common symptoms include cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.[3] The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department sees about 20 cases of active TB every year, which health care providers are required to report under state law.[1]

Officials with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department have maintained in court filings and public statements that the woman should comply with court-ordered isolation and treatment for tuberculosis.[4] “We have worked with family and community members for more than a year to do everything we can to persuade this woman to take her medication to protect herself and our community,” said the department in a statement.[1]

The case highlights the delicate balance between public health concerns and individual civil liberties. In each case like this, health officials must weigh the risk to the public against the patient's right to refuse medical treatment. The department stated that, “We are always hopeful that a patient will choose voluntary compliance in these situations and get the treatment needed to protect themselves and others. We will continue to work through the legal process and all options available.”

In January 2022, the woman received her initial quarantine or isolation order, which was followed by over 20 additional orders throughout the year. Her most recent order of contempt resulted in an arrest warrant.[5] Despite the orders, the woman has refused to comply with medical treatment or isolation.[1] Her non-compliance led to the civil arrest warrant issued last month.

According to court documents obtained by KOMO News, the woman has continued to elude authorities.[6] According to reports, an officer from the Pierce County Corrections Bureau was sent to monitor the woman, with the aim of determining the most secure method of apprehending her.[6] The officer observed that she persisted in leaving her residence, and even utilized public transportation to travel to a nearby casino.[6] Since a scheduled appointment in early March, a court-appointed visitor reported that they have been unsuccessful in contacting the woman or her family.[6]

In the April 3 filing, Chief of Corrections Patricia Jackson said she had directed an officer to surveil the woman to “determine her habits in order to execute the warrant in a safe manner.” While conducting surveillance, the officer observed the woman depart from her place of residence, board a city bus, and arrive at a nearby casino.[7] In the document submitted, Jackson assigns an officer to resume surveillance “as an ongoing effort to adhere to the Court's directive and carry out the warrant.”

The order calls for the woman to be detained in the Pierce County Jail 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.”

In conclusion, the case highlights the importance of public health and individual civil liberties. Health officials are hopeful that the patient will choose voluntary compliance to protect herself and others. Meanwhile, the woman's continued refusal to comply with medical treatment and isolation has led to a civil arrest warrant, and she remains at large.[4] The order calls for her detention until she is no longer a threat to public health.

0. “Tacoma woman with tuberculosis found in contempt of court after refusing treatment” ABC17News.com, 8 Apr. 2023, https://abc17news.com/news/2023/04/08/tacoma-woman-with-tuberculosis-found-in-contempt-of-court-after-refusing-treatment

1. “Tacoma woman with tuberculosis refusing treatment found in contempt of court orders” KING5.com, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/tacoma/tacoma-woman-tuberculosis-found-contempt-court-orders/281-de676b4d-e710-4d38-98a0-7700d5843489

2. “Woman with TB jailed after ignoring order to isolate or get treatment for a YEAR” The Mirror, 9 Apr. 2023, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/us-news/woman-tb-jailed-after-ignoring-29668105

3. “Woman with tuberculosis faces jail and forced treatment after she refused isolation and visited a casino” Fox News, 9 Apr. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/us/woman-with-tuberculosis-faces-jail-and-forced-treatment-after-refusing-medication-isolation

4. “Pierce County woman with tuberculosis continues to ignore court order to isolate” KIRO Seattle, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/pierce-county-woman-with-tuberculosis-continues-ignore-court-order-isolate/6U2X2L46TZBAZHE67GY6YVPOQ4

5. “Woman in Tacoma TB case reportedly rode bus, went to casino” Tacoma News Tribune, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article274042570.html

6. “Tuberculosis-Infected Woman Still Going Out in Public Despite Arrest Warrant” Gizmodo, 7 Apr. 2023, https://gizmodo.com/tuberculosis-washington-woman-arrest-warrant-public-1850312606

7. “Woman with untreated TB is on the lam, took city bus to casino” Ars Technica, 7 Apr. 2023, https://arstechnica.com/science/2023/04/woman-with-untreated-tb-is-on-the-lam-took-city-bus-to-casino/

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