This post examines Corizon Health and how they are endangering the health and well-being of the patients they were hired to heal. By writing this post, we are hoping to inspire insiders to come forward and report any wrongdoing. Whistleblowers can end suffering, earn large cash awards and sometimes, save lives.
It doesn’t take too much digging to find political corruption and corporate greed in today’s private prison and prison healthcare system. Look at almost any tragedy and just under the surface is a sordid tale of understaffing, corner cutting, kickbacks or dangerous practices designed to push profits over prisoners. With the low pay, low staffing and inadequate training, it is amazing that there have not been more tragedies.
American prisons, INS detention centers and local jails house an estimated 2.2 million adults. We have hands down the highest rate of incarceration in the world. (Russia is a close 2nd, everyone else trails far behind.) We lock up more people and for longer period than any other country in the world. (Many speculate that North Korea actually locks up more people per capita but many of those are reportedly executed or soon die in prison.)
As whistleblower lawyers, we don’t get involved in the debates surrounding sentencing guidelines and diversion programs. As readers of this blog already know, many prisoners are today held un private jails run by private, for profit contractors. What the public doesn’t know, however, is that almost half all U.S. prisoners receive private healthcare while in custody.
Some argue that prisoners have it too easy and should be happy to have any healthcare. We disagree. Not only did the Supreme Court declare long ago that prisoners had the right to adequate healthcare, it is also the right thing to do.
Society likes to forget people in jail but they are human beings and not everyone there has done wrong. It is important to remember that many people in jail are there because they are awaiting trial. Others are there because they are there for petty crimes like vagrancy and criminal trespass. As a former police officer, corrections officer and prosecutors, I know first- hand that many people with mental health and or substance abuse problems end up in jail because we have nowhere else to treat or house them.
Let’s also remember that the stated reason for privatizing prison healthcare is to save money yet many studies show the opposite to be true. Prisoners get less care while taxpayers pay more. When you factor in lawsuits for wrongful death and medical malpractice, we don’t think there are any savings at all.
Prison Healthcare and Corizon Health
So just how good is the private healthcare for prisoners provided by Corizon Health and other vendors? It is a disaster in our opinion. We call it medical malpractice on steroids. That more people haven’t died is a testament to the overworked, underpaid and understaffed healthcare workers at Corizon and similar vendors.
Consider this, at one prison, doctors earn mere $5 for each patient they see. To us, that means one of three things is happening. A) you get what you pay for and a $5-dollar doctor scares the bejesus out of us. B) The doctor can only spend a few seconds per patient in order to make any money or C) “What doctor”, we will force a nurse or technician to work outside their scope of practice and hope they get it right. Sometimes we get combinations of all three.
It is important to remember that the according to the Supreme Court, the Constitution guarantees all inmates must receive adequate healthcare. 30 second sick call visits, $ 5 dollar doctors, chronic understaffing and forcing healthcare workers to operate outside their scope of practice is at best deliberate indifference and at worst medical malpractice. Depending on the contract between the prison / jail and the healthcare company, it may also be a violation of the state and federal False Claims acts.
Prisoners can’t pick their doctors or have much other say in their medical care. In a 1970’s landmark prison healthcare case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said, “An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death’ . . . In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose . . . The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation.”
Delivering healthcare in prisons is difficult. The environment is dangerous. Many of the facility’s population are probably suffering from serious mental illness and / or substance abuse. Often the folks in jail haven’t seen a doctor in many months or even years.
Private Prison Healthcare Provider Corizon Inc.
Corizon Health Inc. is one of the largest healthcare companies providing medical care to prisoners. Unlike doctors working directly for state and county governments, healthcare workers employed by Corizon work for a profit company. There is constant pressure to cut costs and increase profits. When a prisoner can’t be treated in the facility or must be seen by a specialist, chances are those costs come right off Corizon’s profits
While many private companies come up with innovative ways to deliver quality services for lower cost, we believe that Corizon finds itself in a constant cycle of underbidding contracts and then cutting corners and delivering poorer quality healthcare.
The Southern Poverty Law Center claims that Corizon “is under financial stress as it faces increasing scrutiny about its practices by prison officials, journalists and the courts. Hundreds of lawsuits are pending…” They link the pressures to cut corners to making a profit to ever diminishing quality healthcare. The Center says care issues resulted in a loss of prison healthcare contracts in New York City, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Mexico and Minnesota.
They apparently even lost a contract in their home state of Tennessee.
Corizon Health and Florida
Corizon’s biggest contract was in Florida. Their short-lived involvement with the Florida Department of Corrections began in 2013 when Governor Rick Scott announced he wanted to privatize healthcare in the state prison system. At the time, Florida’s prison system was the third largest in the nation and housed over 100,000 inmates. Corizon was chosen to provide much of that care. Back then, Corizon was providing care to 317,000 inmates nationwide. Florida became its largest client. (Florida DOC has 100,000 inmates, Corizon won the contracts to supply healthcare to most of them.)
Corizon’s billing strategy was simple. Underbid everyone else and promise big savings to the politicians. Corizon landed a $1.2 billion contract by being the low bidder but it still had to deliver. By 2016, however, they were on their way out despite their contract. Once again, there were more allegations of poor medical care and lawsuits galore.
Corizon simply couldn’t deliver services profitably. We also think they couldn’t deliver adequate care, either. By 2016, the state and Corizon were flooded with claims about poor treatment. The Palm Beach Post reported that Corizon was under intense scrutiny from both lawmakers and state corrections officials over “soaring fatalities and substandard care.”
Just how bad were things in the Sunshine State? According to the Post, state investigators found a diabetic woman who went almost 3 months without insulin. Another inmate with a life-threatening brain aneurysm waited two months to see a specialist. And many mental health patients were “inexplicably” taken off their meds. (As a former corrections officer, I know just how dangerous that can make the facility for other inmates, guards and healthcare workers)
Corizon Health and Idaho
Prisoners in Florida weren’t the only ones suffering under Corizon’s watch. The company came under scrutiny after a federal judge in Idaho appointed a noted corrections expert to serve as a court special master. In a report reviewing conditions at the Idaho State Prison, the special master reported the care provided by Corizon Health was “inhumane.” His report said that terminal and long-term inmates sometimes “went unfed” and nursing care mistakes likely resulted in some deaths.
His report says that one patient was unconscious and having “serious breathing problems.” A nurse didn’t take his vitals and didn’t administer oxygen. The patient died. The report also claims that sometimes guards would call Corizon seeking help in medical emergencies only to receive a phone call from an on-call nurse.
How did Corizon respond? They said they were “disappointed” in the report. We were outraged and so should every healthcare worker, inmate and their families.
It’s not just the bigger state prison systems where Corizon Health is having problems. The Maine State Legislature’s nonpartisan Office or Program Evaluation and Government Accountability looked at how Corizon was providing healthcare in the state’s prisons. They found:
- Medications Not Properly Administered and/or Recorded
- Medical Files Not Complete or Consistently Maintained
- Required Annual Health Exams Not Consistently Tracked and Sometimes Not Performed
- Response to Sick Calls Not Timely and/or Inadequately Documented
- Staff Training Insufficient and Poorly Documented
Under the category “Medications Not Properly Administered”, state investigators found that of 24 randomly selected patients, half didn’t receive their prescription medications and for two patients, medical staff could not even locate the inmate’s medical records!
Our biggest concern is the inmates, of course. Inmates aren’t the only losers in this privatization game, however. Taxpayers also seem to be getting hurt. Companies like Corizon Health sold prison officials on their privatization programs with the promise that these schemes save money. We don’t think they do!
According to the Maine legislative audit, the use of long term contracts diminished incentives to reduce costs. And in Broward County, media sources were unable to force county officials to get full copies of the materials submitted by the vendors. Without transparency, it’s hard to evaluate if the public is getting a raw deal.
Beyond the Statistics – Human Tragedy and Corizon Health
Thus far we have discussed Corizon’s poor track record generally. Although everyone hates corporate greed and inefficiency, it is hard to get riled up by statistics and numbers. So, let’s humanize this post with real people who lost their lives because of what we believe was poor healthcare. After that we will discuss what healthcare workers can do to stop this abuse (and earn cash whistleblower awards for stepping forward.)
The Tragic Death of Kelly Green
A freezing February night in western Oregon. The Eugene police were called by a convenience store worker concerned by an apparent homeless man who was behaving erratically. This is a situation that repeats itself daily throughout the United States. We use the police as the last resort for homeless and mentally ill patients too sick to care for themselves.
Our homeless man was Kelly Green. Police arrested him and transported him to the Lane County Detention Center. In hundreds of cities, police use vagrancy, trespass or illegal camping ordinance violations to take people in and get them out of the cold. When Green got to jail, his behavior didn’t improve. The booking deputy wrote on the intake blotter, “May be bipolar / schizophrenic. No meds … talks to himself … not making sense.”
Proper procedure is to immediately send new prisoners to a physician’s assistant or doctor for screening. Smaller jails have to make do with registered nurses. The screening is critical for everyone’s safety. Jailers need to know if the patient suffers from a communicable disease like TB, needs heart or other lifesaving medication or may later suffer from alcohol or drug withdrawals.
In Lane County, the contract for jail health services was held by Corizon Health Inc.
Kelly Green never saw nurse that night. Nor did he receive any treatment. No one knew that he had been threatening to do harm to himself because the person that should have asked those questions never saw him.
The next morning, Green was taken with other inmates to see the judge. Again, a scene that plays out daily across the United States. Deputies didn’t know, however, that Green wanted to do harm to himself. When the opportunity arose, Green lowered his head and ran headfirst into a concrete wall. The Southern Poverty Law Center described the sound of Green’s head meeting the concrete as that of “throwing a watermelon at a wall.”
Green received critical injuries from that incident. Even the deputies knew something was wrong. A Corizon physician’s assistant determined, however, that “he was fine.”
Even though Green’s neck was broken, he wouldn’t get to a hospital for almost 7 hours. Instead, he went back to jail where he laid incontinent and unmoving for hours. By the time he was taken to the hospital, Kelly Green was a quadriplegic. He suffered for six agonizing months before he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
To make matters worse, Kelly’s family couldn’t get answers. Everyone seemed to point fingers at others. The Greens were both devastated and angry. Their son wasn’t a violent criminal, he was sick and needed help. When no good answers were forthcoming, the Greens sued.
Corizon claimed that the death although tragic, wasn’t their fault. They claimed their on-duty physician’s assistant did everything by the book. But did they?
The court didn’t think so and refused to dismiss Corizon from the lawsuit. A federal magistrate said that despite the Corizon PA’s testimony that she performed a comprehensive neurological exam on Green after his head ramming incident, her notes don’t mention such an exam. Nor could a co-worker, several deputies and even a court clerk recall such an exam.
“In contrast to [Corizon Health physician assistant Kirstin White’s] deposition testimony, her chart note did not note a neurological exam and did not include the level of detail noted above from her deposition. Epperson [another Corizon employee] did not recall White performing a neurological exam, but does remember her checking his neck… The judicial assistant in the courtroom, Tracy Tomseth, states that no one immobilized Green’s neck and that no one performed a neurological exam. Tomseth did not see anyone do anything with Green’s legs, put hands to his feet, or grab his hand to squeeze.
Three Lane County deputies present, Darryl Davis, Kelly Rahm, and Angela Dodds recall that White was asked if Green should be transported to the hospital and White responded that he could be treated at the jail. Deputy Angela Dodds stated that White specifically answered no, that Green would be treated at the jail and that it was ultimately White’s decision. Deputy Kelly Rahm stated that medical did their assessment and determined that Green did not need to go out in an ambulance and White stated she could stitch or staple the wound on his head and that it was okay for the deputies to move Green because ‘He’s fine, he’s fine.’”
When blaming the deputies didn’t seem to work, Corizon seemingly took a shot at the court and suggested the court clerk should have called 9-1-1 but didn’t!
Corizon’s legal maneuvering failed. After losing their bid to get out of the case, the company settled the lawsuit. Corizon Health paid the family $7 million and Lane County paid $400,000.
When Jails House Mentally Ill Patients
In many communities, jails have become the poor substitute for underfunded mental health services. If the hospitals are full or on nights and weekends, cops and local jails are called in as a last resort. Both are poor substitutes for a properly funded and equipped mental health programs. Jails function as shelters in many areas of the country. With no weekend social services available, the severely ill often wind up in jail.
Unfortunately, jails and their healthcare providers don’t always have a say in who ends up in their care or custody. But once a mentally ill patient is in jail, corrections officials and healthcare workers can’t simply ignore their needs. As noted above, the Supreme Court and societal norms dictate that all prisoners and detainees are entitled to basic care.
That means companies like Corizon Health are still required to provide adequate care even if it can be argued that folks like Kelly Green don’t belong in jail.
Corizon Health and the Tragic Death of Martin Harrison
It’s not just people with mental illness who are dying in prisons. Often people with severe substance abuse problems find themselves behind bars. The following two stories are very different but have the same tragic ending; an ending that could have been easily prevented.
Martin Harrison was unemployed and down on his luck. Ever since his mother died he started to hit the bottle. He divorced. By 2010 he got in a minor traffic accident while drinking. Luckily no one was hurt. Martin’s kids say the accident was a wakeup call for their father. He planned on getting treatment. He never got that chance.
On August 13, 2010, Martin Harrison was picked up in Oakland for jaywalking. That wasn’t enough to toss him in jail but a records check said he never properly dealt with the drunk driving charge. Police arrested him on a warrant from that case.
Harrison was transported by the police to an Alameda County jail facility. Inmate healthcare within that county’s jails was performed by Corizon Health. A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) did Harrison’s intake screening. She was unsupervised, a point which would later become critical at trial.
Evidence indicates that Harrison told jail staff that he was an alcoholic with a history of alcohol withdrawal. That should have meant a special detox protocol with careful monitoring. Instead, the nurse sent Harrison to general population. No one was told to watch him or that he might be soon going through withdrawals. (That point is disputed by Corizon.)
Two days later, Harrison went into severe Delirium Tremens (DT’s), an often fatal condition. If not immediately treated, up to 35% of cases become fatal. Deputies in jail unit where Harrison was housed apparently did not have known that Harrison was in DTs. (He should not have been in general population if he was a recent intake with withdrawal and DT history.)
Allegedly when a deputy entered Harrison’s cell, Harrison “tensed.” A deputy shot Harrison twice with a Taser and called for backup. The fight was on.
Harrison was probably out of his mind at this point and not making any sense. He certainly wouldn’t be able to comply with instructions. Why it took 10 deputies with Tasers to subdue a 49-year-old, 142 lbs. man is a different story. Harrison was beaten and tasered multiple times. When deputies finally got him cuffed, he was unconscious. Martin Harrison died a few hours later.
During the subsequent lawsuit, Harrison’s minor child settled privately for $1 million but the remainder of the case went to trial. In 2015 and in the midst of the trial, Corizon Health and Alameda settled for $8.3 million.
The news stories discuss the horrible abuses that Harrison suffered while in jail but they don’t tell the whole story. The media focused on the beating but all of this could have been avoided if Harrison was properly screened upon his booking.
In Oregon, licensed vocational nurses can’t work without direct supervision, can’t assess patients and can’t make treatment plans. Corizon had set up the nurse in this case to fail. And in doing so, Martin Harrison needlessly died.
Corizon Health is a for profit institution. It pays registered nurses (RNs) much more than LVNs. By cutting corners and saving a few bucks, Corizon could add to its profits. Had an RN made a wrong diagnosis or otherwise made a mistake, the case would have been a single patient medical malpractice case.
In trying to save a few bucks, however, Corizon used an unsupervised vocational nurse to work outside her training. Under the law, Corizon must insure that it has the proper people to staff its contract with the county. We think they failed.
Although Oregon doesn’t have a private False Claims Act, many other states in which Corizon Health does business do. If federal dollars are involved (federal Bureau of Prison facilities or ICE detention centers, the federal False Claims Act may apply. Why are these laws important?
They pay whistleblowers with inside information about serious fraud cash awards. More on that at below.
Corizon Health and Madaline Pitkin
Kelly Green wasn’t the only person to die in Corizon’s care. While Green’s life ending incident was sudden and took place just hours after he was incarcerated, the death of Madaline Christine Pitkin is in certain ways more disturbing. It is more disturbing because her death from heroin withdrawals took place before everyone’s watchful eyes over a 7-day period and no one did anything.
On April 24, 2014, Madaline “dropped dead” in her cell. At least that it what was told the family. While technically accurate, there is so much more to the story.
At the young age of 24, Madaline became addicted to cocaine. Her life quickly went into a tailspin. Living in Portland, Oregon, the city actually did have treatment options for addicts who wanted to get help. And Madaline was getting that help although still addicted to heroin.
She was arrested and taken to jail after a police officer on a motor vehicle stop learned she was in possession of heroin. Madaline was transported to the Multnomah County jail. Corizon Health had the healthcare contract there.
Intake records noted that Madaline was an active heroin user and had not shot up for a day. She was beginning to withdraw. Madaline told a Corizon nurse that she was sick. (Dope sick is the term used by users.)
Other inmates thought she looked dope sick too. They described her lips turning purple and her skin turning yellow and purple. A Corizon Health nurse, however, didn’t think she looked sick. That’s important because when you are in jail, the guards and healthcare workers have final say. That puts a large amount of pressure on jail staff to make sure they are thorough and accurate.
Some jail deputies also thought Madaline was sick. Corrections officers keep detailed log books. That is a requirement in almost every facility. The deputies said over the seven days she was incarcerated that she was “emaciated,” “fragile,” “tired,” “very tired,” “weak,” “very skinny,” “far too skinny,” “sickly,” “sick,” “very sick,” “very very sick,” “lethargic,” “unsteady” and “shaky.”
One deputy called medical the day before she died. Another said her detox was the worst he ever observed. (Jail guards unfortunately see prisoners detoxing daily.)
On four different occasions Madaline filled out medical request forms. One said, “Heroin withdrawal. I told medical intake that I was detoxing & they said I was not yet sick enough to start meds. Now I am in full blown withdrawals and really need medical care. Please help!”
Another said that her heart was beating so fast that she couldn’t sleep.
When a nurse found her in the morning she was unresponsive. A deputy called for an ambulance but Madaline Pitkin was dead.
Is this medical malpractice? In our opinion, yes. But it is also a whistleblower violation too. Why? Because an after the fact review suggested Corizon Health had left shifts requiring registered nurses to go without the proper personnel.
It’s a practice we see over and over again. Private healthcare companies either leave shifts unfilled or use improperly certified or trained staff.
While we do believe that some of the Corizon healthcare workers bear some personal responsibility for this incident, we also know that many are overworked or forced to work outside their capabilities. And if the company knows it and allows it to continue, it shifts from being a mistake to fraud.
Under the False Claims Acts in many states, whistleblowers with inside information about these violations can collect a cash award. More importantly, by filing a False Claims Act case, we can help stop these abuses and make sure that others don’t needlessly suffer.
If you work or previously worked at Corizon Health or any other private healthcare company and have inside knowledge of widespread care issues, understaffing or improper staffing, call us.
For more information, contact us online, by email () or by phone (). Cases accepted nationwide.
Corizon Health Today
Corizon still has dozens of prison healthcare contracts around the nation. Under And most whistleblower statutes, Corizon can be held responsible for their previous actions and fraud for as much as 6 years.
Last year, the company reported that it provided care to 345,000 prisoners in 534 jails and prisons in 27 states. (Their website today suggests that they now serve 220,000 patients in 22 states.)
Corizon became the leading name in prison healthcare in 2011 following the merger of Correctional Medical Services and Prison Health Services. The new company became Corizon Health Inc.
Prisoners and their families have the right to expect that patients will receive proper healthcare while in prison. The Supreme Court declared adequate healthcare was a right secured by the Constitution. Basic common sense and norms of decency dictate that healthcare providers strive to provide the best healthcare possible.
We believe that Corizon Health knows it can’t deliver on promised cost savings without cutting corners. That means inmates don’t receive the basic care they deserve. Often that means not properly staffing their contracts or simply not providing the care that a patient requires.
Do You Work for Corizon Health? – Call for Corizon Whistleblowers!
MahanyLaw is a leading whistleblower law firm with cases across the United States. Our mission is to help whistleblowers put an end to dangerous practices and greed. It’s time to start thinking about patients first and then profits.
We also work hard to help our whistleblower clients collect the largest awards allowable by law. Although retaliation is illegal in most states, we also work hard to prevent retaliation and seek justice when it does occur.
As a former corrections officer, I understand the unique realities of working in a jail. People are reluctant to blow the whistle. If savings lives and preventing suffering isn’t enough of a motivation to blow the whistle, consider this… Failing to properly screen inmates and provide adequate treatment actually increases the risks to other healthcare workers and guards. Blowing the whistle not only can save the life of an inmate, it could prevent violence towards you or a co-worker.
We suspect that the low pay at Corizon Health and poor working conditions has probably resulted in some questionable people being hired. The real culprits, however, are the senior management team. They rake in the big bucks while front line staff struggles in an already difficult environment.
A recent review on glassdoor.com notes that, “We were told to protect the relationship with the DOC at a cost to patient wellbeing and welfare.” Unfortunately, we suspect that is the real problem. It is the nurses and doctors being forced to put the company’s profits before the patients’ medical needs.
Unless people stand up and step forward, tragedies will repeat daily. The death cases make the news but thousands of prisoners are suffering daily because of poor or delayed care.
What Can You Do?
Seeking Corizon Nurses, Healthcare Workers and Corporate Compliance Officers
If you work or worked at Corizon Health and have firsthand knowledge of ongoing care issues or contract violations, call us. We can confidentially determine if you likely qualify for an award. If you do have a case, we will gladly prosecute the case. All cases are handled on a contingency fee basis meaning you don’t pay any costs or legal fees unless we collect money for you.
Under the False Claims Act laws in most states, whistleblowers with inside information about fraud involving tax dollars can qualify for an award of between 15% and 30% of whatever is collected from the wrongdoer. Million dollar awards are not uncommon.
For more information, visit our prison healthcare information page. Have specific questions or considering becoming a whistleblower? Please contact attorney Brian Mahany online, by phone (direct) or by email at . All inquiries are kept confidential. (Remember, never email or call us from a company owned phone, computer or using a company email address!)
Note: If a loved one has suffered a wrongful death while in custody or if you suffered a life threatening, catastrophic injury or illness requiring extensive hospitalization because of poor medical care or medical malpractice, you may have a case. Visit our sister Jail Injury and Death site.