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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

New York Times Examines Prison Health Care

The deaths of two New York inmates sparked the New York Times to investigate prison health care in New York.  Brian Tetrault was a 44-year old Parkinson's sufferer and former nuclear scientist jailed in 2001 for stealing skis and other items from his ex-wife's house.  He was denied his medication for Parkinson's after his tremors were dismissed as "fake."  After his death, corrections officers doctored his records to make it appear that he died after he was released.  Victoria Williams Smith was a 35-year old, jailed for smuggling drugs, who died of a heart attack after being given nothing more than Bengay for chest pains.  The nurse claimed that her pleas for hospitalization were a scam to get drugs.  The New York Times writes: "In these two harrowing deaths, state investigators concluded, the culprit was a for-profit corporation, Prison Health Services, that had moved aggressively into New York State in the last decade, winning jail contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with an enticing sales pitch: Take the messy and expensive job of providing medical care from overmatched government officials, and give it to an experienced nationwide outfit that could recruit doctors, battle lawsuits and keep costs down.  A yearlong examination of Prison Health by The New York Times reveals repeated instances of medical care that has been flawed and sometimes lethal. The company's performance around the nation has provoked criticism from judges and sheriffs, lawsuits from inmates' families and whistle-blowers, and condemnations by federal, state and local authorities. The company has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements. In the two deaths, and eight others across upstate New York, state investigators say they kept discovering the same failings: medical staffs trimmed to the bone, doctors underqualified or out of reach, nurses doing tasks beyond their training, prescription drugs withheld, patient records unread and employee misconduct unpunished.  Not surprisingly, Prison Health, which is based outside Nashville, is no longer working in most of those upstate jails. But it is hardly out of work. Despite a tarnished record, Prison Health has sold its promise of lower costs and better care, and become the biggest for-profit company providing medical care in jails and prisons. It has amassed 86 contracts in 28 states, and now cares for 237,000 inmates, or about one in every 10 people behind bars." The full story: "Private Health Care in Jails Can Be a Death Sentence" [Mark Godsey]

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