Prison System, Health Care Contractor Accused Of Denying Inmate Surgeries

September 17, 2015

Lawyers for Florida inmates have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and prison health-care provider Corizon, alleging that the state agency and the company are denying hernia operations to save money.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee on behalf of three inmates. Two of the inmates, Amado Parra and Archie Green, suffer from hernias but have been denied the opportunity to consult with a surgeon, the lawsuit says. A third inmate, Tracy Copeland, was seen by a surgeon who twice recommended a hernia operation, but state corrections officials denied the procedure both times.

The lawsuit, filed by Florida Justice Institute Executive Director Randall Berg, details numerous inmates’ years-long struggles to get hernia operations. It says they were repeatedly denied consultation with surgeons or were not allowed to have surgery once doctors decided it was necessary.

“It’s a pattern and practice of denial of medical care on the basis of saving money and maximizing profits,” Berg said in a telephone interview. “This is surgery that the taxpayers of the state of Florida have already paid for. Corizon is under contract with the state of Florida to provide medical care to inmates that need medical care, and they’re simply not providing it.”

But Corizon issued a statement Wednesday saying it does not have policies limiting or preventing hernia surgeries or other medically necessary procedures. Corizon had not been served with the lawsuit, but company spokeswoman Martha Harbin said “what makes good business sense and good medical sense is excellent preventive care.”

“We are first and foremost health-care providers. Our mission is to deliver safe, effective and efficient health-care services using best practices and evidence-based medicine,” Harbin said in the statement.

The treatment of inmates with hernias is the latest in a litany of complaints about privatization of the prison system’s health-care services.

Tennessee-based Corizon and Wexford Health Services took over prison health care about two years ago after a drawn-out battle over outsourcing ordered by the Legislature in 2011.

The state awarded Corizon a $1.1 billion, five-year contract to provide health care for about three-quarters of the state’s 100,000 inmates. Wexford Health Services is responsible for the rest of the prisoners.

Less than four months before Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed for the privatization, was re-elected in 2014, former Corrections Secretary Michael Crews quietly agreed to pay Wexford and Corizon an additional $3.2 million to stay on the job for another year.

Two months after he inked the contract amendments, Crews threatened to stop payments to Corizon, saying the company failed to follow through after audits revealed shortcomings in multiple areas, including medical care, nursing and staffing.

So far this year, the corrections department has fined Corizon $67,500 in liquidated damages, according to agency spokesman McKinley Lewis.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the agency and Corizon of violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

Inguinal hernias cause severe pain, which typically worsens with activity or exertion, and can cause serious complications, including death, if left untreated, Berg wrote in the 45-page complaint. The medical standard of care for hernia patients is surgery — one of the most common surgeries in the country — as soon as it is detected, he wrote.

But since Corizon took over in October 2013, physicians have refused to submit consult requests or such requests for surgery are is denied, the lawsuit alleges.

Pictured: The medical unit inside the Century Correctional Institution. None of the inmates involved in the lawsuits over medical care are inmates in Century. photos, click to enlarge.

“Defendants have enforced this policy, practice and custom despite knowing that failing to provide these surgeries will lead to prisoners being left in excruciating pain, limited in their activities, and at risk for serious complications or death,” Berg wrote.

Copeland, who has suffered from a hernia for more than two years and was twice denied surgery despite the recommendations of a surgeon, “feels like his insides are falling out of his body” and “has been reduced to lying in his bunk most of the day,” Berg wrote.

Seeking class-action status, Berg said at least 62 prisoners have experienced the same problems and as many as 10,000 inmates — or 10 percent of the prison population — could be affected, based on the rate of hernias in the general population.

Corizon receives a fixed, per-inmate fee for health services and must also pay the corrections department $250 each time it transports an inmate over 50 miles roundtrip for medical services, with some exceptions, Berg wrote.

“Thus, Corizon has a financial incentive to avoid providing medical care and treatment, especially when that care involves sending prisoners to outside specialists,” he wrote.

Berg also represented Daniel Plotnick, an inmate who sued the state and Corizon last year after being repeatedly denied a hernia consultation. At a hearing last September before U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who is also presiding over the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Corizon officials agreed to allow Plotnick to see a surgeon. Shortly afterward, the inmate received two hernia surgeries. Plotnick settled his case against the state, Corizon and a doctor for $90,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida


16 Responses to “Prison System, Health Care Contractor Accused Of Denying Inmate Surgeries”

  1. Beatrice on November 17th, 2015 7:19 pm

    Every prison is not guilty of the crime their charge with,however therdoing the time, doctor have a duty to persevere life,its a inmate civil right to medical treatment,the corizon company is paid to provide. Care. It’s a unjust and suit against. Them ,and the state.

  2. David Huie Green on September 19th, 2015 9:31 pm

    People are generally not Imprisoned for the good they do but for the bad. Doing a dozen good deeds seldom balances even a single little felony. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . WARNING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Wisdom suggests placing your life in the unloving hands of others is a bad idea. Avoid commiting felonies. Not everybody accepts the idea they owe you unconditional love for hurting them.

  3. BM on September 18th, 2015 3:32 am

    Poor things,, they probably got those hernias from working out in the weight room.

  4. Granny on September 17th, 2015 11:01 pm

    My grand baby who is a Marine Corps combat vet and done more for this country than yall complaining about inmates receiving healthcare is in prison. He made some mistakes when he left the military. He still is a human and should be treated as such.

  5. Big red on September 17th, 2015 10:35 pm

    @ mother of an inmate and Greg. This is prison not jail health care. If you make a mistake you go to jail. If you make multiple mistakes and continue to make them you usually go to prison. So I don’t feel sorry about these people who keep leaching and victimizing societies good hard working law abiding citizens. If health care was an issue for the poor poor convicts they should have though about their health before making these ” mistakes “. If it’s life threatening a surgery should be done. If it’s something that can wait till these convicts are released then so be it. Let them pay for it. Or better yet in between making another mistake to put them back in prison schedule an appointment for a surgery. Will it happen? Probably not.

  6. Freeda on September 17th, 2015 9:18 pm

    Yet people have no problem sending billions to other countries.

  7. Stumpknocker on September 17th, 2015 8:03 pm

    I wonder if their hernia was bothering them or causing them pain while they were committing the crime?I understand the feelings the family and their loved ones have for them,so why don’t you folks pitch in and help or pay for their much needed medical care. Now that would be the honorable thing to do is take care of your own and not expect others to do it for you.

  8. SEL on September 17th, 2015 7:01 pm

    They can have it when they get out. Or wear a truss.

  9. Dan on September 17th, 2015 6:34 pm

    I have worked as a co for many years and have never seen the inmates health care as bad as it is now I witnessed the medical staff repeatedly tell a inmate over several months that there was nothing wrong with him he begged for them to help him when they finally believed him they found out he had cancer and was not just dehydrated or faking like the doctors said he was dead a month later and this is not a isolated case it happens all the time privatization was the worst move ever ask anyone who works there

  10. No Excuses on September 17th, 2015 3:45 pm

    First, the point has been missed by a few here, and that is that this care has ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR, and they are not getting it. To me, that’s ripping off the taxpayers because since the money has been spend, no one is doing anything great by denying hernia surgery for these inmates. In fact, they can’t be as productive working behind the fence if they are in pain and poor health.

    Also, if a person who is incarcerated becomes sick, why deny them health care? That’s inhuman. They are incarcerated for punishment, not denied health care for punishment. Also, the idea of it only being for life threatening issues? Please! What if a diabetic develops retinopathy. That person will go blind without the surgery – then he or she will be a drain on society for the rest of their lives by drawing disability.

    Use some common sense when thinking about this. Are they nice people? Probably not. Are they humans? Absolutely.

  11. Greg on September 17th, 2015 12:34 pm

    Puddin lets hope you never make a mistake. These people are human no matter what.

  12. Puddin on September 17th, 2015 10:10 am

    If it aint life threatning, emergency surgery, then we shouldnt be paying for it. Most hernias are not life threatning. You screw up I see no reason why I should have to supply you with free medical care.

  13. chillywilly on September 17th, 2015 9:38 am

    Welcome to Gov Rick Scotts world. Regarding why Scott pushed so hard for
    this company to come here and take over prison healthcare. Gov Rick Scott
    I’m sure has a financial interest in this company but we will never know for
    sure since he keeps all his assets hidden in a blind trust in his wife’s name.
    Gov Scott just settled a lawsuit against him for violating Florida Sunshine
    laws for open government for 1.3 million taxpayer dollars. And Approves
    2 million dollars for a sea wall on a golf course in south Florida.
    And Correctional officers have not had a pay raise in nine years.
    How this guy got re-elected is beyond me but it is the will of the people
    So Sad.

  14. Mother of an inmate on September 17th, 2015 7:51 am

    CO Wife- Lord forbid you ever have a loved one that makes some bad choices in life. Just because they are murderers, rapists, and crack heads do not take away the fact that they are human beings, just like you and deserve the right to adequate healthcare. As for your healthcare struggles, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people with children still w/o healthcare coverage and they too are struggling to pay for their children’s basic needs. It’s not just CO’s who are poorly compensated. But none of this takes away from my point…Inmates are human beings who deserve Love and healthcare regardless of what they have been convicted of.

  15. Joe on September 17th, 2015 7:15 am

    Is anyone really surprised? Corizon is one of the most crooked healthcare provider you can find. Just look what has happened in other states. What I find ironic is the connection Rick Scott has with this company and the fact he pushed so hard for it to come here.

  16. CO Wife on September 17th, 2015 5:40 am

    My husband is a CO. We are so busy paying for the States Ins, that coincidentally keeps denying coverage of much needed things for our children, on the pay that he makes — Zero pay increase for several years–that he and I can’t afford to go to the doctor ourselves. But oh lets worry about the health of these poor murderers, rapists, and crack heads.

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