Corizon execs, NYC officials questioned in Rikers Island probe

Friday, February 27, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 9

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City lawmakers have peppered city officials and company executives with questions about the quality of health care at Rikers Island jails.

Councilman Corey Johnson told executives of Corizon Health Inc. at an oversight hearing Tuesday that he doesn't have confidence in their leadership.

Brentwood-based Corizon has a $126.6 million contract to provide health services to inmates in the nation's second-largest jail system.

The Associated Press reported last year on more than a dozen inmate deaths since 2009 that raised questions about the timeliness and quality of care, and Johnson referred Tuesday to that report in his questioning.

Corizon Chief Medical Officer Calvin Johnson said officials are committed to providing high quality care.

The Corizon contract expires Dec. 31, and the city is reviewing possible alternatives.

A spokesman for Corizon, the nation's largest private provider of correctional health care which is responsible for 345,000 inmates in 27 states, said providing quality health care to a difficult population was a company priority.

"As an organization committed to continuous improvement, we look forward to speaking to the New York City Council," said Andrew Moyer.

The treatment of inmates at Rikers has come under increased scrutiny in the past year since the AP first revealed the deaths of Ballard and Jerome Murdough, another mentally ill inmate who died after he was locked alone in a jail cell that sweltered to more than 100 degrees because of a malfunctioning heating system.

An October report by the AP, based on hundreds of investigative documents, found that treatment, or lack of it, was cited as a factor in at least 15 deaths filed away as "medical" since 2009, including that of a 32-year-old man who died of a bacterial infection in his stomach and intestines after days of bloody stools. He received treatment only after fellow inmates staged a protest.

Officials have said Mayor Bill de Blasio is conducting a comprehensive review of the Corizon contract but hasn't yet made a decision about its future.

Inmate care is notoriously difficult to provide, experts say, in large part because incarcerated people come into custody with health problems such as addictions and hepatitis C at rates that far surpass levels seen in the community.

In New York, care is further complicated by how it is provided. While the city charter gives the Department of Correction control of the nearly 11,000 daily inmates, it also tasks the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with providing inmate care.

Former jail health officials and advocates say tension between the two agencies, one focused on security and the other on health care, can be traced to the root of many jail problems, including deaths.

Spokesmen for the health and correction departments say officials are committed to improving inmate health care.