ACLU-PA Calls on Allegheny County to Fix Unconstitutional and Dangerous Deficiencies in Jail’s Health Care Services

December 22, 2014
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PITTSBURGH – The ACLU of Pennsylvania is calling on Allegheny County to develop a plan in the next 30 days to address the widespread and at times life-threatening deficiencies in the medical services provided to individuals in the Allegheny County Jail. An audit released today by Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner highlights many of the problems with the jail’s health care services, which are provided by the contractor Corizon Prison Health Management.  Over the past year, the ACLU also has received numerous reports, from prisoners, jail health care staff, and even outside providers, about the substandard, unconstitutional level of health care in the jail.

Corizon Prison Health Management, a private for-profit company, took over medical services at the Allegheny County Jail from the troubled nonprofit Allegheny Correctional Health Services in September 2013.

“We applaud County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for recognizing the dire situation with the previous health care provider but, unfortunately, Corizon has proven to be no better.  According to the report, however, the deficiencies in medical care are serious and raise Eighth Amendment concerns,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“We appreciate that the controller’s audit brought to light many of the same concerns that we at the ACLU-PA have heard over the past year. The information we have received from prisoners, jail medical staff and even outside providers indicates that these problems are ongoing and continue to threaten the health and well-being of inmates. The ACLU-PA is asking Allegheny County to provide within the next 30 days a plan for moving forward on fixing the dire situation in the county jail,” he added.

The ACLU specifically is calling for:

  • A high-level, independent monitor to provide oversight of the health care services and to make regular, publicly available reports on the findings;
  • Regular and rigorous monitoring specifically of the staffing complement, to ensure it complies with the terms of the contract and is sufficient to provide adequate health care to inmates, and invocation of fines provided for in the contract to penalize Corizon for chronic under-staffing; and
  • A mechanism for stakeholders who are directly impacted by the issues raised in this audit – including inmates, their families, jail medical staff, outside medical providers and organizations advocating for inmates – to provide feedback on the health care services at the jail and to assist in developing strategies to remedy the issues identified.

Despite claims by Corizon that many of the problems in the audit, which covered the period September 2013 to February 2014, have since been fixed, the ACLU has received  numerous complaints in the past four months on a wide range of issues, such as inconsistent delivery of important medications, including for mental health and HIV patients, and prolonged periods of no medication; extended waits by prisoners to be sent for lab tests or to see outside providers for serious medical issues;  refusal to provide needed hormone therapy to transgender inmates; deficient staffing leading to irregular supervision of suicide watch and to overnight treatment in infirmary; and abysmal patient record keeping.  

Some of the most egregious allegations reported were Corizon’s refusal to send a woman with a suspicious lump for a mammogram and its failure to discover a dead woman prisoner in the infirmary for several hours after her death.

These deficiencies have had serious consequences, especially for some of the most vulnerable inmates. The ACLU has received reports that pregnancy tests have not been routinely administered due to lack of supplies, putting at serious risk women who were unaware they were pregnant upon admission to the jail. According to reports, Corizon has failed to provide critical prenatal and gynecological care in several instances, including one in which they declined to order methadone treatment for a heroin-addicted pregnant inmate, risking serious harm to her and her fetus.

Corizon Prison Health Management, formerly known as Prison Health Services, provides health care and mental health services in 27 states and has been sued for malpractice over 660 times. Across the country, Corizon has faced accusations of failure to provide constitutionally adequate health care to inmates, resulting in illness, injury and death, and settled countless lawsuits alleging wrongful death and deliberate indifference to inmates’ serious medical needs. States and counties have threatened to withhold payments due to Corizon’s failure to meet its contractual obligations, and the company also has been cited for labor violations on multiple occasions.

Read the full Corizon Audit Report here.

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