Higher Death Rates in Jails With Private Medical Care

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Matthew Loflin died soon after an official of Corizon Health Inc. delayed his hospitalization while he was an inmate at the Chatham County Detention Center in Savannah, Ga., in 2014. Reuters corroborated the claims of fired jail officials about faulty care at the facility. In the last years of a Corizon contract to handle medical care at the jail from 2014 to 2016, prescription drugs went missing, patients deemed gravely ill by medical staff were denied hospitalization, mentally ill inmates went untreated and records were falsified, Reuters reports. Weeks passed with no doctor on site, leaving care to nurses and video calls with doctors. The jail’s 400 mentally ill inmates, nearly a quarter of its population, were treated by a sole psychiatrist.

The Savannah jail’s breakdowns reflect a national trend. More than 60 percent of major jails in the U.S. hire private companies to deliver inmates’ medical care, and that shift has taken a toll: more dead. A Reuters review of deaths in more than 500 jails found that from 2016 to 2018, those relying on one of the five leading jail health care contractors had higher death rates than facilities where medical services are run by government. The analysis assessed deaths from illness and medical conditions, suicide, and the acute effects of drugs and alcohol. Jails with publicly managed medical services had an average of 12.8 deaths per 10,000 inmates. Jails with healthcare provided by one of the five companies had an additional 2.3 to 7.4 annual deaths per 10,000 inmates. The death rates were 18  percent to 58 percent higher, depending upon the company. Reuters says its review is the most definitive examination to date showing the risks that have emerged as hundreds of jails have embraced the multi-billion dollar correctional health care industry and its promises of quality care and controlled costs.

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