New MDC medical supplier to increase staff

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Bernalillo County commission last week approved a $ 64.9 million contract for prison medical services, bringing in a new supplier to replace an outgoing supplier who is expected to terminate its contract earlier than expected.

County officials say the new deal with Corizon Health – which would cover four years with an extension option – will increase healthcare staff at the metropolitan detention center, hopefully reducing pressure on the facility’s guards. The new positions include seven certified medical assistants, who will take charge of prison suicide watches, alcohol withdrawal watches and other medical observations.

“This will help our prison officers and put them back in the role of providing security within the facility and actually having a doctor who runs the observation shifts,” Roseanne Otero Gonzales told the commission, director of administrative services at MDC.

She said the contract also adds a new addiction specialist and what she called other “improvements,” including an emergency response plan that requires Corizon to have at least one trained staff member. in advanced cardiac resuscitation for each emergency medical incident.

Commissioner Adriann Barboa said she was grateful for the idea that was formulated in the contract and the new staff that are part of it, noting both the wave of recent deaths in prison and the need to release some pressure on existing correctional officers.

“We’ve had over 10 deaths this year, and it’s (by the way) the lives of people, first and foremost, and their families,” she said. “And that’s also fair (by the way) the morale of our staff who… deal and work with and care for people that no one else really wants to deal with.”

The new contract funds 105 medical staff positions, and Corizon intends to keep employees who served at the facility under Centurion Detention Health Services, which terminated its contract more than a year earlier.

Centurion had been operating at the prison since early 2019 and had signed a four-year contract with the county for around $ 13 million a year.

In a year starting in April 2020, nine inmates died in custody. Causes of death varied, but six were drug or alcohol rehab or medical units in Centurion’s care.

After the Journal ran an article about the deaths in March, the county manager said she expressed concern to the health care provider about the vacancies and continuity of care and asked the company to address these specific concerns. Instead, Centurion decided to leave.

Over the past month, two other inmates have died – one in prison and one after being taken to hospital.

Lawyer Peter Cubra, a longtime prison advocate, said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the county’s decision to replace Centurion with another large for-profit corporation.

“Corizon has had a long and horrible history of obtaining millions of dollars from the state of New Mexico to provide inadequate care to prisoners,” Cubra said. “… I don’t understand why anyone would choose a company like the one that just left.” “

He and others had advocated for the University of New Mexico hospital to provide medical care instead.

Corizon did not respond to requests for comment on Cubra’s concerns.

But in response to questions from Commissioners about the depth and scope of the company’s services, Senior Vice President Karen Davies said the company aims to treat patients in a “holistic” way, whether their needs are medical or related to patients. behavioral health.

“We don’t skimp on medications, on specialist visits, on any service a patient needs within a correctional facility; that’s what we want to make sure we deliver to them, ”she said. “You never know – it could be your son, your daughter, your cousin, your mother. Anyone could be incarcerated. They are not prisoners for us, they are above all patients.

Corizon, which provided health care in state prisons from 2007 to 2016 for $ 37.5 million a year, has been sued more than 150 times, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. The lawsuits allege delayed, negligent and deficient medical care and retaliation by staff when detainees complained.

In 2016, the Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican, and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sued Corizon when it refused to publish the medical malpractice and sexual abuse settlement agreements he made with inmates. A state court ruled that Corizon must provide them under the state public archives inspection law – a decision upheld on appeal.

The lawsuit prompted Barboa to ask the supplier about transparency at the committee meeting.

Corizon’s lawyer, Maya Patel, told the commission that this was a “one-time problem” and that Corizon was trying to protect detainees’ information. She said the company would work under its new contract with Bernalillo County, posting “everything that needs to be disclosed.”

“We don’t intend to try to hide things,” she said.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the new deal – which Barboa said was the county’s biggest contract – although Steven Michael Quezada expressed suspicion about supplier turnover. He said it was the MDC’s third medical contract in five years at the commission.

“I don’t judge anyone; I say it’s hard work and I understand it, ”Quezada said, adding that he would like the county to try to partner with local service providers in the future.

Corizon is based in Tennessee.

“I really believe in my heart that if we have our suppliers coming from the state, we can keep them at a higher level. This is not at all against our new suppliers. … Historically, this is what has happened: They end up in a position, and they can just leave. I think someone inside the state is not that easy to do, ”Quezada said.