A Joint Newspaper-TV Investigation Reveals Prison Health Care Problems

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A three-month investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-TV (Channel 10) found that the medical care provided to 45,402 inmates in 33 prisons is riddled with hidden problems and costs.

A review of thousands of pages of records from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction from the past three years and dozens of interviews reveal:

• Taxpayers, who underwrite annual spending of more than $122 million on correctional health care, also footed more than $1 million in bills to pay wrongfuldeath and medical-negligence claims filed by inmates and their families.

• Critically ill inmates died at hospitals after waiting nearly an hour for ambulances, and prisoners with chest pains died of heart attacks within minutes of being seen and released from clinics.

• Some prisoners waited up to 16 months for surgery while their ailments worsened, with the waiting list once backlogged with 100 inmates.

• Inmates, including the mentally ill, went days without receiving their prescribed medicine and without seeing doctors, while officials fretted about fielding enough nurses to staff prison clinics.

• Medical professionals working in state prisons included a doctor under a 35-count felony indictment, a physician who lied about his criminal background and others with a history of disciplinary action.

• In a flood of e-mails between prisons and the Office of Correctional Health Care in Columbus, administrators regularly complain about the poor performance of contractor-provided physicians and dentists.

Some prisons have gone months without medical directors while revolving-door rosters of doctors work too few hours to fulfill contracts requiring that ill inmates be seen within two days.

Amid long-lingering state budget woes, a medical system has evolved in which contractors are paid less to care for more inmates, with one contractor lamenting a corresponding drop in the caliber of physicians.

Meanwhile, the state continues to rehire contractors with checkered histories while some physicians ousted because of concern about the quality of their care later resurface to work in other institutions.

Link: http://www.dispatch.com/reports-story.php?story=dispatch/2003/08/24/20030824-00100.html

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