Jail mom claims leg infection contracted in Ottawa cell

A woman who recently gave birth inside jail claims she contracted an antibiotic-resistant organism that caused a severe leg infection during her time in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

Julie Bilotta, 26, gave birth to her son, Gionni, on the evening of Sept. 29 while she was in a segregated jail cell. The baby arrived about one month early.

She was reunited with her son about three weeks later, but less than a month after that, she was forced to have surgery for a severe infection in her leg.

Bilotta contracted MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, an antibiotic-resistant organism that is known to be common inside Ontario jails and hospitals, as well as public places such as hotels.

The Cornwall, Ont., woman and her lawyer believe the infection originated at the Ottawa jail. That has not been confirmed.

A spokesperson for the union representing Ontario jail staff did say the union is well aware of MRSA inside provincial institutions.

"Jails are not known to be very clean. We have a transient population … It's always a struggle to keep our work environment clean," said Dan Sidsworth, chairman of the corrections ministry employee releations committee for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"Our working conditions are the inmate's living conditions."

Sidsworth also said the union, which is set to bargain with the Ontario government next week on a new contract for workers in correctional facilities, believes health and safety issues are more important than wage issues.

The executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an advocacy group that assists women in conflict with the law, also said she is aware of "several" recent cases of antibiotic-resistant infections in the Ottawa jail.

"That's a fairly frequent complaint that women are saying they've asked for antibiotics and they have been told that it's nothing," said Bryonie Baxter.

Bilotta, who now has a 20-cm scar on the back of her leg, was told if she waited another week before going to hospital, she might have had her leg amputated.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services did not respond to an interview request by deadline.

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