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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Our Opinion: Yes, prisoners in Indiana need good health care"

That is the heading to a lengthy June 17th editorial in the South Bend Tribune. The editorial draws on data from a series by reporter Virginia Black, which ran in the SBT last week (and earlier). Here is a page that links to some of the stories, but others I've located are not listed ...

Some quotes from the editorial:

But when Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005 decided to turn prison health care over to a private company — as part of a larger push to privatize state services — was it the right move? As Black’s stories revealed, there are legitimate concerns about how well inmates are being served by the company, Corizon Health, and how well the state is monitoring the level of care.

Complaints spiked in Indiana 2015, while officials in other states have accused Corizon of cutting corners to save money. Then there are the human stories: the Centerville man who died in prison after just 37 days even though prison officials knew of his health struggles, including the need for a tracheostomy tube; the Huntington woman who died coughing up blood while handcuffed and shackled in an ambulance; the Knightstown man whose cancer went undiagnosed for nearly two years.

There are key areas where Indiana can take a harder look at its medical care, and both short-term and longer-term steps it can take:

• Oversight. The hundreds of complaints that are filed by inmates about health care are reviewed primarily by one person — the Department of Correction’s ombudsman. She can choose to take a deeper dive on complaints or dismiss them. What recourse does an inmate have with the state if the decision is to pass? Virtually none.

Meanwhile, the chief medical officer for the DOC, Dr. Michael Mitcheff, is responsible for working with Corizon in overseeing its health care. His previous job? Working at Corizon, as a regional medical director. Mitcheff and the company insist the level of care is reviewed carefully. But lawyers and former Corizon doctors level accusations of pressure to rein in costs.

Michigan has tried to build at least one level of oversight. It also contracts with Corizon, but it hires another outside company to help monitor Corizon, including reviewing reports and audit findings.

• Prescription medicines. State officials provided two different and varying sets of figures on the amount of drugs prescribed to inmates each month. They couldn’t explain the discrepancy. And each set showed odd patterns. Need we point out that drugs are supposed to be prescribed based on need?

• Transparency. Reports that Corizon is supposed to file with the state, including information on staffing shortage and inmate deaths, are not made public. The state cites confidentiality of medical records as the blanket reason. It’s too thick a blanket; there are ways to release information while protecting the identity of patients or victims. Also, while the state releases lists of prisons and their scores during inspections, it does not include details about the inspectors or what they may have found to be deficient.

• Review all options. Indiana’s latest contract with Corizon is due to expire at the end of this year. Many states, such as Florida, Tennessee and Maryland, have walked away from Corizon in recent years. Indiana should thoroughly review its contact, its relationship with the company and the level of care before deciding to renew. At this point, after over a decade, it’s worth asking whether Indiana has made the best choice.

• Listen to the judges. A group of federal judges in southern Indiana is so worried about prisoners who aren’t getting proper legal representation with medical cases that they’re pushing to set up a system to recruit attorneys and experts who can help. One judge cited the “urgent and ever-increasing need” to get legal help for poor plaintiffs. Unfortunately, judges in the federal court’s northern district, which includes South Bend, are “not doing anything along those lines,” a spokesman said. They should pay closer attention, and consider following the lead of their counterparts.

The bottom line is prison inmates have a right to quality health care, and the state has an obligation to provide it, as difficult as the task may be. It’s time for Indiana to make sure it’s meeting that obligation.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 21, 2016 09:42 AM
Posted to Indiana Government