The ‘Chaos’ of Arizona Prison Health Care

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Photo by Matthew Hendley via Flickr

More than two years after the State of Arizona and Corizon Health, a privately owned correctional health care company, settled a lawsuit claiming poor health care conditions in state prisons, at least 100 stipulations agreed to in the settlement have not been met, according to an investigation by the Arizona public radio station KJZZ.

A federal judge is now threatening to fine the state millions of dollars for what the station alleged was the continuing “chaos” of mental, dental and health care in Arizona’s 10 state prisons, the station said.

After the investigation aired last week, an Arizona magistrate who said he was “shocked” by the findings demanded a public hearing.

“I’m standing literally this morning because I am standing up for the inmates in Arizona prisons,” said Magistrate Judge David Duncan during a hearing in federal court last week.

In a 15-minute address to the court, Duncan described an email uncovered during the investigation alleging Corizon Health’s avoidance of fines as a potential “smoking gun.”

He said his staff had received calls from Corizon employees telling him “it is so much worse than you think.”

The KJZZ report cited Dr. Jan Watson, a former prison doctor worked at Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence, and the daughter of Walter Jordan, an inmate who died of cancer while incarcerated.

Watson said her requests for medical treatment for inmates were repeatedly denied.

Judge Duncan questioned whether there was corruption within the system.

“I have used words like shocked and flabbergasted, but I have run out of words,” he said.

Judge Duncan set a hearing for Feb. 9 to investigate the allegations made in KJZZ’s report.

The state’s contractor, Corizon Health, has not been able to fill the number of provider-level physicians required in its contract. The company also struggles to find outside providers to treat inmates with specialty care.

Corizon and the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) said the reasons for this include the fact that doctors don’t want inmates in their waiting rooms.

ADC assistant director Richard Pratt testified he recently learned of a potential bankruptcy of Arizona Oncology Network, one of Corizon’s oncology subcontractors, which generated a large backlog of requests for cancer treatment.

In a sharp exchange with Pratt, Duncan demanded, “Who at the state is responsible for this?”

“A large amount of patients are having their oncology care delayed. Is it on your shoulders, Mr. Pratt? Who has trouble sleeping at night? Is there anyone in the state employ who worries about this?”

“I worry,” Pratt responded.

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent for KJZZ, and a 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice Fellow. This story was also reported by Sky Schaudt and Phil Latzman. The complete version and broadcast reports are available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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