A recent Reuters report found that jails that resort to private healthcare providers have a higher death rate than facilities serviced by government agencies.
The privatization of inmate healthcare has had tragic consequences across the country. When contractors put profits first, doctors are seldom called on when urgent care is needed. In a shocking video featured on Reuters’ website, an agonizing man crawls on the floor in pain as guards walk casually about. The inmate in those images, Jimmie Lee Alexander, had a blood clot in his leg. He died 32 hours later.
Alexander had the misfortune of being sent to Chatham County Detention Center in Savannah, Georgia, which is serviced by the infamous Corizon Health.
Matthew Loflin ended up in the same facility after being charged with drug possession. He spent seven agonizing weeks at Chatham, often experiencing blackouts. A doctor and two nurses advised he should be sent to a hospital, but a Corizon Health manager opposed the transfer. The doctor eventually sent Loflin to a cardiologist, but it was already too late when the specialist finally sent him to the hospital. A couple of weeks later, the 32-year-old man died.
A doctor and two nurses told the sheriff that Corizon was letting people die to increase profits; the healthcare professionals had witnessed two preventable deaths in just two months. Corizon fired them soon after, and they sued the company for wrongful termination. A confidential settlement ended the affair, including a clause that the plaintiffs could no longer talk about their allegations.
Journalists were only able to piece these stories together after reviewing thousands of documents, interviewing former Chatham staff and Corizon employees, and hearing directly from a whistleblower.
The misconduct uncovered by Reuters includes:
- Disappearing prescription drugs
- Seriously ill inmates denied hospitalization
- Mental patients receiving no treatment
- Medical record falsification
- Absence of a doctor on-site for weeks
- A single psychiatrist treating 400 mental patients
Public Medical Services vs. Private Healthcare Contractors
In the case of jails with the worst private providers, Reuters journalists found the death rate was 58% higher than that of facilities serviced by the local health department or the sheriff’s office.
- Jails with publicly managed medical services: 12.8 deaths per 10,000 inmates
- Jails with private healthcare providers: 15.1 to 20.2 deaths per 10,000 inmates
Corizon is unquestionably one of the worst providers in the country, but it is also the largest. It currently operates in 15 states, managing care for about 116,000 inmates. The company’s officials have shockingly said that death rates are not a valid statistic to measure the quality of service they provide.
Corizon and four other companies dominate the jail healthcare market. These big players are:
- Wellpath Holdings
- PrimeCare Medical
- Armor Correctional Health Services
The higher death rate at jails serviced by the private healthcare contractors listed above can be attributed to:
- Lack of measurable care standards
- Lax staffing requirements
- Lack of evaluation and hospitalization protocols
- Management’s intent to reduce spending
When Corizon took over as a healthcare contractor at Chatham, it reduced the cost of sending inmates to hospitals by 53 percent. The hospitals weren’t charging less for their services; Corizon was simply sending fewer inmates to external medical facilities. The company’s profits grew rapidly, from 14.6% in 2011 to 24.2% in 2013.
While the previous contractor, Prison Health Services, spent about $1.3 million a year on Chatham inmate hospitalization between 2013 and 2014, Corizon managed to spend an average of $750,000 a year on outside medical services.
One Corizon nurse who worked at Chatham told reporters that company executives said in an orientation that it cost “too much money to send people out.” The whistleblower said Corizon preferred that inmates be treated at the jail’s infirmary even if they required hospitalization.
In Savannah and elsewhere, these corrupt and unethical practices continue. Healthcare contractors are chosen because they offer competitive rates, but the way they do it is by providing substandard care that allows jail inmates to die preventable deaths.
Oversight is failing miserably. Since the government has access to jail death data, they must know privatized jail healthcare is killing hundreds of inmates every year. And yet, these companies continue to operate and make millions of dollars.
The only way to stop them is to fight back. If you have received substandard healthcare at a U.S. jail or prison, you can sue for compensation. It may be the only way to expose wrongdoers and pressure the government to reform our broken penitentiary system.
If you or a loved one suffered jail medical neglect while in prision, you can sue for compensation. Call us at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online