TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona’s prison health care system is so dysfunctional and risky for inmates that a federal judge should appoint a receiver to manage it, inmates’ attorneys said in a court filing Friday.
Despite multiple court orders for the state to improve conditions and a $1.4 million fine, inmates with cancer, chest pain, and other serious health threats are not getting the medical or dental care they need quickly enough, in some cases not at all, and prescriptions are not getting to patients fast enough, said attorneys representing inmates in the Arizona Department of Corrections facilities.
The state argued that the latest problems, identified in monthly reports, were due to a switch from one health care provider to another, and they it had made every reasonable effort to comply.
That’s just an excuse, said inmates’ attorney Corene Kendrick of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, California.
“Month after month, the defendant’s own reports show they were not substantially in compliance” with a May order to show cause from U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver, who listed 24 compliance problems and threatened a $50,000 fine for each instance totaling $1.2 million.
That comes after U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan held the state in contempt in June 2018 and fined it $1.4 million for not complying with his order to show cause. The state appealed that ruling, and the money is being held in escrow pending the outcome in the Ninth Circuit.
Many of the noncompliance issues from 2018 were the same this year, Kendrick said.
In May, June and July 2019, problems included patients not getting medication within two days of prescription, appointment delays, and not giving patients diagnostic results quickly enough. One inmate complained numerous times about painful lumps on his back and was sent to a mental health professional, according to the inmates’ filing.
“The lumps went untreated for months, he ultimately was sent to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for multiple infected abscesses on his back, and was diagnosed with disseminated coccidioidomycosis, osteomyelitis, and acute kidney failure,” the plaintiffs said.
Another patient whose family history includes heart attacks complained about chest pains but didn’t see a cardiologist for two months.
From 2013 until this past June, the prison health care provider was Corizon, which under its last contract extension was paid $11.60 per inmate per day – roughly $12 million per month. The contract included penalties for not complying with the court-mandated improvements, but the penalty was capped at $90,000 per month, Duncan wrote in his contempt ruling last year.
Centurion’s contract is for more than $16 per inmate per day, or just over $200 million annually, meaning a $1.4 million fine offers little deterrence, Kendrick said.
“It’s just the cost of doing business,” she said.
The inmates want a receiver, because it seems clear the fines and court orders are not having much impact, Kendrick said. She added sees no problem meeting the two legal thresholds for receivership – grave and immediate threat to the inmates and ineffective remediation measures.
The Arizona Department of Corrections and an attorney for the state did not immediately respond to a request for comment.