Damning Testimony on Medical Care in Arizona Prisons

PHOENIX (CN) — A doctor who worked for an Arizona prison testified Tuesday of repeated instances in which nurses withheld medications from inmates, including insulin, and denied them access to specialists.

The testimony kicked off an evidentiary hearing into whether Arizona is violating a 2015 class action settlement filed by inmates in the state’s 10 prisons, who deficiencies in their medical care.

U.S. Magistrate David Duncan called the hearing after Jan Watson, a doctor who performed part-time services for Corizon last year, provided a reporter at a National Public Radio station with emails detailing shortages in medical providers.

Corizon, one of the nation’s largest prison health care providers, works on a contract with Arizona’s prison system.

The KJZZ radio report cited an email in which a Corizon staff member told Watson to cancel a pending infectious disease consultation for a prisoner because it had been “sitting there for 42 days” and “(a)fter 30 days we get nailed for 1000 bucks per day until they are seen.”

Duncan has said he will fine the state $1,000 for each violation of the stipulations in the settlement.

Arizona could face more than $1 million in fines, as it has acknowledged more than 1,000 violations in December alone.

Watson, who worked at the Eyman prison complex in Florence, gave the court a detailed walkthrough of the problems she faced.

She testified that she often requested referrals for inmates with medical conditions that she was unable to treat in the prison. In one request, she asked for an audiology referral for a patient with a broken hearing aid. The request was sent back to her with the designation “ATP,” or alternate treatment plan, which means the inmate should be treated on site.

“We all know I can’t fix a hearing aid,” Watson said.

In another instance, an inmate suffering from regular, untreatable seizures was denied multiple consultation requests to see a neurological specialist after he was hospitalized for seizures.

Watson talked to Rodney Stewart, her supervisor and a doctor at the Eyman complex, about the repeated denials.

“We both sat with the patient, and Dr. Stewart told him that sometimes we couldn’t control seizures,” Watson said.

She suggested sending the inmate to a neurological center near the prison, but Stewart told the prisoner it would cost too much.

Stewart told Watson to order the inmate a helmet to wear around the prison.

When she left her employment with Corizon, Watson said, the inmate did not yet have a helmet.

After an inmate was hospitalized for a heart attack and returned to the unit, Watson said, Stewart told her the condition was not treatable and to “keep him comfortable and let him die.”

A day after that comment, Stewart and another doctor at the prison told Watson that she “needed to spend less time with the patients,” catch up on her computer work, and to stop ordering so many splints.

They also told her that she was submitting too many referrals.

“I said, ‘Well, yes, I do make referrals, knowing that more than likely that are not going to be approved,’” Watson told the court. “I thought it would be documentation of what would be normally considered appropriate medical care, and there was always the possibility they could surprise me and approve it.”

Watson also faced nurses withholding “KOP or keep-on-person” medications from inmates.

One nurse declined to give an inmate his insulin, Watson said.

“I said, ‘Are you really not going to give him his insulin?’ and she said ‘No, we are all adults here, they need to learn to be responsible,’” Watson testified.

Watson said she came forward because she couldn’t find anyone to take action about the level of care in the prisons.

“I don’t know why it’s bothering me so bad,” she said. “Because he told me to let that patient die, I couldn’t get that out of my mind.”

The hearing was to continue Wednesday morning, followed by a hearing into whether Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan should be held in civil contempt for failing to comply with the court settlement.

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