Whistleblowing Doctor Sues New Mexico Prisons

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — A top medical official claims in court that the New Mexico prison system fired her for complaining that Corizon, the nation’s biggest prison health care contractor, was not providing the medical health services it was paid for.

Dr. Bianca McDermott sued the New Mexico Corrections Department on March 31 in Santa Fe County Court. Corizon is not a party to the case. The Brentwood, Tennessee-based company describes itself on its web page as the nation’s largest provider of prison health care, with contracts for 301 jails and prisons in 22 states that hold more than 220,000 prisoners.

McDermott was bureau chief for behavioral health in New Mexico state prisons from 2012 until she was placed on administrative leave in May 2015 and then fired on Nov. 23 that year. McDermott says it was for reporting “unethical and improper behavior,” and refusing to participate in it.

Specifically, she says, in 2013 New Mexico was paying Corizon $3.125 million a month for inmates’ medical care — as of May 1 that year, it had paid Corizon more than $200 million for this.

However, she says, “Dr. McDermott was personally aware that Corizon was not providing all mental health care required under the contract, which meant that some portion of the two hundred million dollars NMCD paid to Corizon had not been earned.”

Corizon’s contract with the state required New Mexico to audit its performance, and McDermott says that was not being done either. She filed a Qui Tam action and public information requests, and the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office investigated.

For this, she says, she was “retaliated against, harassed, and ultimately terminated.”

Corizon was formed in 2011 through a merger of Correctional Medical Services and Prison Health Services. It has a litigious history in New Mexico. The weekly Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported in April 2014 that 138 prisoners had sued Corizon between 2012 and 2015. The previous prison health care provider, Wexford Health Sources, had been sued 53 times between 2004 and 2007, according to the newspaper.

In the same article, the New Mexican reported that the Corrections Department was not monitoring Corizon’s performance as required by contract. “Of about 160 audits that should have been done between 2012 and 2015, the department could only produce records of 20,” according to the New Mexican.

In two lawsuits in 2015, seven inmates claimed that a prison doctor sexually assaulted them by giving them “digital rectal exams,” sometimes without gloves, for complaints such as an ankle infection, toenail fungus and tooth pain.

Dr. McDermott says she was fired “because she had reported her good-faith belief regarding unethical and improper behavior, and/or because she refused to participate” in it.

She was accused of hiring discrimination, HIPAA violations and insubordination as a pretext, McDermott says. She appealed to the State Personnel Office, attended a hearing and provided the requested Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and heard nothing for seven months.

She seeks reinstatement, twice her lost wages, benefits, front pay and damages for whistleblower violations, retaliation, harassment, and costs of suit.

She is represented by Samuel Wolf with Jones, Snead, Wertheim & Clifford in Santa Fe.

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